SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Missouri has one of the most active flu seasons in the country right now. It joins Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia and North Dakota in that category.
OzarksFirst spoke with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department (SGCHD) and CoxHealth and learned how the flu is impacting the Ozarks.
Aaron Schekorra, a public health information administrator, says SGCHD reported an increase in flu numbers in December. This concerned him up until two or three weeks ago, which is when numbers started to drop.
“We are not experiencing the extreme flu spread that other parts of the state are,” Schekorra said. “But that doesn’t mean that we won’t see an increase in flu numbers as flu season goes on. People have started to take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that could be having an effect preventing the spread of the flu.”
Last week, SGCHD reported 122 cases in Greene County. So far this flu season, the county has seen 1,180 cases and one death.
“Just because it’s not the concerning situation that maybe the rest of the state is experiencing, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take flu seriously,” Schekorra said. “We need those things that we can do to help prevent the spread. Staying home when you’re sick, washing your hands and practicing good hygiene and of course getting your flu shot.”
Nearby counties are also facing a more active flu season than last year. According to the Department of Health and Senior Services, Christian County sees 59 flu cases per week. Dallas County has a weekly rate of 72. Webster County has 79.
“You mention a few of the counties that were getting hit a little harder than others and you also a trend with vaccination rates in those areas,” Neal DeWoody, CoxHealth’s interim director of infection prevention said. “Anywhere with a low vaccination rate is going to have a higher disease prevalence. So yeah influenza is definitely making a comeback this year.”
DeWoody says CoxHealth has seen some flu cases, but COVID-19 is the hospital system’s main concern right now. CoxHealth sees around 10 to 20 flu cases per week.
“It’s definitely still around,” DeWoody said. “We aren’t seeing the strangely low numbers that we saw last year due to all the masking mandates across the country and across the world really. But it’s still not as problematic as COVID currently.”
When COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms, how do you tell the difference between the two?
Schekorra says you may not be able to find this out on your own. He emphasized that there has been one flu-related death in Greene County this flu season. Schekorra says this is why you shouldn’t assume you have one sickness or the other, and go get tested.
If you have symptoms and aren’t able to access a COVID test, Schekorra says you should treat the situation like you have the virus. This means you should isolate until your symptoms go away. If your symptoms last longer than they should, call your doctor or find a drive-thru testing option.
“What we say, especially right now is to not make the assumption that your symptoms are one or the other,” Schekorra said. “It’s to get a test. Regardless of what symptoms you’re suffering from you should be staying at home right now, and preventing spreading that illness to somebody else. Flu can cause severe illness and hospitalization among people and especially right now when COVID-19 is causing such an overwhelming impact on our hospitals. It’s just another illness that we need to help keep under control to prevent our healthcare infrastructure from having to respond to that one as well.”