According to a weekly influenza surveillance report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state of influenza activity in Missouri has reached “widespread” levels.

The report is represented by a map of the United States, grading each state using one of 6 categories: no activity, sporadic, local activity, regional, widespread or no report.

A number of states, along with Missouri, have been placed under the widespread category, including Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois and Arkansas.

According to Dr. Cynthia Brownfield with Mosaic Life Care, the H3N2 strain is the culprit. And this year’s flu shot doesn’t seem to be effective on the current strain.

“A couple things to always keep in mind with the flu vaccine is that it covers you for four different strains. So even though it’s not showing very promising results for the current H3N2 that’s going around, it still may be great for the other strains that we just haven’t experienced yet,” Brownfield said. “So even if you actually have already had the flu … the flu shot will still offer you benefit for the other strains.”

Brownfield also thinks it’s important that people understand the difference between the “stomach flu” and the actual flu.

“I see a lot of people who come in all the time and tell me, ‘Oh, I already had the flu, so I don’t need the flu shot,’ Brownfield said. “Unless a doctor told you that you have the flu, you cannot jump to that conclusion. So a lot of people misinterpret the stomach flu as the flu, because the stomach flu is just a virus of your stomach but not technically the true influenza virus that gives you the high fevers, cough and congestion.”

Another thing to keep in mind is how the flu spreads. Brownfield said viruses can live on surfaces for a very long time, so it’s important to make use of wipes provided at grocery stores to clean your cart before shopping. Wash your hands frequently, and make sure not to touch your face.

“People, all the time, will touch their mouth, put their fingers in their mouth, touch their nose or touch their eyes. That’s how you take the virus that’s on your hand and put it inside of you, so it’s critically important to avoid touching your face,” Brownfield said.

She also recommends teaching good cough etiquette – coughing into your sleeve and not your hand. And if you start to notice symptoms, such as a fever, coughing, chills, congestion or nausea, go see the doctor as soon as possible, and plan to stay home from work or school.

“If you have a high fever, a sudden onset of cough, congestion, runny nose, body aches or chills, and it kind of just hits you all at once, you probably have the flu, and you should see the doctor within 48 hours,” Brownfield said. “We can actually give you the treatment for the flu, which is Tamiflu. That will help reduce your symptoms and reduce the duration of your symptoms. After 48 hours, that medication is not as effective for you.”

The flu is more damaging for people who are immunocompromised. Some medications suppress immunity, and the elderly, as well as infants, already have fairly low immunity to begin with.

“You’re technically contagious with the flu for two days before you even have symptoms, so that can be very challenging,” Brownfield said. “So you already exposed people (to the flu) before you even knew you had it.”

If you have the flu, Brownfield recommends a lot of rest, drinking a lot of water and asking your doctor about safe over-the-counter medications to help reduce the symptoms.

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