Why Missouri health officials expect flu cases to rise in coming weeks

Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The number of flu cases in Missouri this year has doubled from this same time last year. Health officials say it’s because people are traveling again and have not received a flu shot. 

In the past week, MU Health Care in Columbia reported more than 100 patients have tested positive for the flu. The health care provider’s director of infection control said last year, at this time, there were barely any cases due to mitigation strategies that have now fallen to the wayside along with vaccinations. 

“I think people just simply got tired of doing the same thing and now we are seeing a surge in those viruses,” said Dr. Christelle Ilboudo, director of infection control and prevention at MU Health. “Vaccination rates have not been as much as we would have hoped for this season.”

Last week, the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) said the state reported 62 flu cases. At this same time last year, there were 38. Ilboudo is concerned about what this means for flu season. 

“Influenza peaks around December and January, usually, so even though the numbers are rising, we are not at the typical peek yet but compared to last year, yes, this is an increase,” Ilboudo said. “At the same time last year, people were not traveling as much. COVID was still scary back then.”

Those 100 cases MU Health Care reported, Ilboudo said, are in younger Missourians. 

“It’s been adolescences and younger adults,” said Ilboudo. “That 18- to 30-year range is what we’ve seen here locally,” Ilboudo said. “Children have had influenza as well, and some older adults in their 30s and 40s have gotten it as well.”

So far this year, Missouri has reported 331 cases and no deaths due to the flu. In previous years between October and May: 

  • 2020-2021: 1,795 and two deaths
  • 2019-2020: 113,395 and 101 deaths 
  • 2018-2019: 76,863 and 92 deaths

“It was such a mild flu season last year. People maybe got a little complacent thinking that, ‘If it wasn’t that bad last year, I don’t need my flu shot this year,'” DHSS director Don Kauerauf said in an interview Tuesday. 

Kauerauf said last year, the vaccine was an important measure to help keep Missourians with influenza out of crowded hospitals. 

“They should still be getting their influenza vaccine. It doesn’t matter if there’s COVID or not COVID. It’s a good public health measure to take,” Kauerauf said. 

Currently, nearly 51% of Missourians are fully vaccinated. Ilboudo said she is still concerned about variants for those not vaccinated. 

“COVID is a bigger threat, I think. There is always a chance of us facing a variant, and to me, that is the scary part about COVID,” Ilboudo said. “If we continue to have unvaccinated people who are getting infected, we could hot mutation just like Delta or worse, that will negate all the work that we just did with the vaccination.”

With a low vaccination rate, Kauerauf said more people are susceptible to COVID and the flu. 

“Just do what’s right, and people know what’s right, and that is to protect others. And the best way to protect others is to go get vaccinated,” Kauerauf said. “In a season of thankfulness and hope that people will put aside their difference and do what’s good for other people.”

Just like the COVID vaccine, Ilboudo said it takes two weeks after you get the flu shot for you to be fully vaccinated. Since the state does not require the flu shot, the 

Both health officials said they expect an uptick in COVID and flu cases in December and January. 

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