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Missouri’s state health agency encouraging respiratory-related vaccinations after uptick in flu cases

Missouri’s state health agency encouraging respiratory-related vaccinations after uptick in flu cases

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – It’s the time of year where you’d expect the cold and flu season would be winding down but that’s not the case in Missouri.

In fact, a look at the new flu hospital admissions across the state week-by-week shows that the most recent data from February 18-24 had Missouri admitting 423 flu-related patients which is the most since the flu season started back in October. The second-highest week was 370 admissions from December 24-30 in 2023 compared to just 24 in the first week of October.

The upward trend is also the case in Greene County.

“Every year flu is unpredictable,” pointed out Kendra Findley, the Administrator of Community Health and Epidemiology for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. “Normally by March we’d start to see that decline in cases but if you look at Greene County cases alone since January 1, there’s been a 76 percent increase in the number of cases.”

“And there’s still certainly a possibility that we could see an increase in cases before this is all over,” added Nathan Koffarnus, the Epidemiologist for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

While many respiratory-related illnesses are commonly considered more likely to hit the senior citizen demographic group, the local flu numbers don’t skew in that direction.

“The majority of cases we’re seeing in Greene County have been between the ages of 5-49,” Findley said.

“They’re the ones who are out in the community going to schools and work,” Koffarnus said. “And maybe they’re not as concerned about preventative measures like vaccinations. But it is a good reminder for folks who didn’t get a flu shot and maybe about to go on a spring break trip, this would be a good time to get the vaccine and have a little bit of extra protection.”

“Those over the age of 65 tend to make sure they’ve got their flu vaccines every season to protect themselves,” added Findley. “So that may be why we’re seeing fewer cases over 65 right now. But it’s not too late to get your flu vaccine. It’s just important to remember that from the time you get your vaccine to when your body has full immunity takes about two full weeks.”

Meanwhile the CDC is recommending those age 65-and-older get an additional COVID-19 shot even though locally the numbers are down.

“We’ve seen a 69 percent decline in COVID cases since the beginning of January,” Findley said. “But really we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of cases because there’s a lot of people who don’t go to the doctor, get tested or get that official diagnosis. So we only know what’s been reported to us. However, it is that older-than-60 age group that starts to have immune compromising conditions which will make them more susceptible to diseases that spread in our community.”

And that’s why it’s also being recommended that adults 60-or-older talk to their health care provider to determine if the RSV vaccine is appropriate to get as the respiratory virus is more common in the old and very young.

“If you’re over 60 it’s recommended,” Koffarnus said. “If you’re a pregnant female or a very young child there are some options out there you can talk to a provider about. There are vaccines for pregnant females that can transfer some immunity to the infant when they’re born if the mother gets vaccinated at a certain stage of the pregnancy. And there are some options for very young children whose mothers did not get that pregnant vaccine.”

RSV is hard to differentiate from the flu or COVID because they share the same symptoms.

“They’re all similar in that they’re those flu-like symptoms,” Findley said. “So it really comes down to testing at a clinic.”

“In the early days for COVID it was the loss of smell and taste kind of symptoms,” Koffarnus added. “But as the virus has changed and more people have become exposed to it that’s become less common. By now more than 98 percent of Americans have been exposed to COVID in some way and that was not the case years ago. So now there’s a lot of crossover. But there’s always value in knowing exactly what you have. There are some treatments specific to each of them.”

And as far as prioritizing which shots to get?

“If you want to get only one vaccine at a time start with the flu because of the increase that we’re seeing right now,” Findley said. “And then RSV and finally COVID.”

“It would be a decision you should discuss with your individual doctor,” Koffarnus said. “But from an epidemiologist point of view, right now I’d be more concerned about the way flu is trending up and it could still increase. But I think it would be wise to get all three and if your physician believes you shouldn’t get them all at once, stagger them out over a week-or-two.”

A news release from the DHSS also provided additional information:

To find COVID-19 or flu vaccines near you, visit Vaccines.gov.

Home Test to Treat, a new nationwide program, provides access to free testing, telehealth visits, and treatment for COVID-19 and flu. Free telehealth visits and treatment are available for anyone who tests positive for either condition, regardless of insurance status.  Anyone who is uninsured or enrolled in Medicaid, Medicare, VA Healthcare or Indian Health Services (IHS) can also receive free at-home COVID-19 and/or flu tests, even if they are not currently positive. Call 1-800-682-2829 or visit www.test2treat.org to learn how to enroll.

Most local public health agencies throughout the state of Missouri offer comprehensive health services and vaccinations at affordable rates. To find a local public health agency near you and schedule an appointment, visit the Local Public Health Agency Directory.

There are also various programs for those without health insurance to receive vaccinations. The CDC’s Bridge Access Program provides COVID-19 vaccinations at no cost to adults. The Vaccines for Children Program, funded by the CDC, provides free vaccines to children who qualify and is designed to help protect children against vaccine-preventable diseases.

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