As the bitter heart of winter hits Monroe County, another unwanted visitor creeps in as well.
The flu has made its mark on the county already, hitting earlier than in previous years.
Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said that as of last week, the health department had seen about 20 flu cases.
This strain of flu is the same as the worldwide pandemic in 2009: H1N1.
It has been previously known as the “swine flu” and affects middle-age adults and the elderly the most.
“The number we have so far for Monroe County is only the doctors that are swabbing for the flu,” Wagner said. “Some doctors don’t, so there are probably more cases out there.”
The vaccine for this year’s flu does contain the H1N1 strain to protect people.
“But just because you got the vaccine doesn’t mean you’re 100 percent protected,” he said. “You can still get the flu, but it’s usually a weaker sickness and you recover quicker.”
Wagner said the numbers were on the rise last week, although he hasn’t seen a recent update.
He said the rise in flu numbers will typically last about four weeks and will peak and come back down.
“This year it’s hit a little earlier than normal, so it may stay up at the high end for a while,” he said.
According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, flu numbers have spiked over in St. Louis County as well, with numbers going from 57 reported cases during a week in early December to 226 cases right before New Year’s Eve.
The number of flu patients at St. Anthony’s Medical Center in south St. Louis County had reached a very high level, causing the center to release a statement saying: “The numbers are in, and they are dramatic.”
According to the article, Dr. Dolores Gunn, head of the St. Louis County Health Department, said 90 percent of reported cases in St. Louis County involved the H1N1 strain.
The Monroe County Health Department at 901 Illinois Ave.in Waterloo has a limited number of adult vaccines and a bigger supply for children.
Wagner said the numbers so far are higher than last year at this time, but overall numbers are still down.
“It hasn’t peaked yet, though, so we’re waiting to see how bad it gets,” he said. “We’re still in the initial stages.”
Compared to other regions, Wagner said Monroe County does a good job at keeping numbers low.
“Our vaccination rates are high because of demographics, so we generally fare pretty well,” he said.
The key things to keep in mind for flu prevention are to wash your hands frequently and to stay home when sick, along with keeping hands away from the face.
“We ask that people please utilize their sick days if they can to keep the spread rate down,” Wagner said.
For information on how to receive the flu vaccine (injection or mist) through the health department, call 939-3871 or visit online at www.monroecountyhealth.org.