Flu epidemic spreads across Kansas City metro

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When you compare this year to 2013, the growing number of cases forecast a brutal flu season that still has months to go.

"These numbers are unprecedented," said Dr. Lee Norman, the Chief Medical Officer at the University of Kansas Hospital.

There are 36 patients at the hospital being treated for the flu.

"We've got 25 inpatients that have been confirmed with influenza, and we've got an additional 11 patients that are in the process of tested now but are being presumptively treated for influenza," said Dr. Norman, who says he's never seen this many inpatients with the flu at one time. "Numbers have been just a straight line up; there's been no leveling off in the number of cases.”

They've had two influenza deaths so far from influenza or an influenza related complication, like a bacterial infection.

"The bacteria that is there can set up house and cause a secondary bacteria pneumonia," said Dr. Norman.

"The H3N2, which they're estimating around 90 percent of the flu is that strain that we're seeing here in the United States, that type of flu is typically related to more severe cases, especially with children," said Larry Franken, Ph.D, the Chief Epidemiologist at the Wyandotte County Public Health Department.

Franken says there's been a lot of concern about the vaccination this year.

"The influenza vaccine has four different components in it including an influenza A, which is known as H3N2, that's the one that last year caused the bulk of infections from influenza, this year it looks like the same pattern," said Dr. Norman, who also notes the virus has changed a bit. "We call it genetic drift."

Just enough that one component in the vaccine isn't as effective, but says you'll have a less severe infection with the vaccine.

"Influenza vaccine is still the number one way to prevent influenza infection," Dr. Norman said.

Clinics, Urgent Care centers, and E.R.s are flooded with patients right now, making it hard for patients to be seen.

"Of the 28 metro hospitals, 10 were on diversion, because of the emergency department saturation," Dr. Norman said.

Numbers are so high Dr. Norman says they're thinking of setting up special clinics just for acute respiratory illnesses and influenza. It's also the first year the hospital had mandatory influenza vaccinations for all 8,000 employees.

"Even with that, we still had about two to three times the amount of absenteeism in our health care workers, not all due to influenza," said Dr. Norman.

Hospitals are recommending that everyone gets a flu shot. Doctors say if you're sick, stay home, don't send kids to school and don't go to work if you're ill. Cover your cough, wash your hands and try to prevent the spread of the flu.

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