Missouri is seeing a dramatic rise in the number of reported flu cases this winter and the Washington area is not immune.

According to a report issued by the Department of Health and Senior Services, the state had 9,842 reported flu cases during the last week of 2012. During the same period in 2011, there were 378 cases.

The emergency department and urgent care clinics of Mercy Hospital Washington also reported a spike in flu cases at the end of December.

Dr. Bob Olson of Mercy Urgent Care in Washington said there were 71 cases of the flu in the ER and clinics the entire month of December with 40 cases reported the last week.

This past week, the ER and clinics have seen seven cases of the flu, he said.

“We started seeing flu cases in November and then it kept increasing until that last week of December,” he said. “Of those cases in December, 85 percent were Influenza B and more than half were children, ages 5 to 14.”

Dr. Olson said three adults were admitted to the hospital last month due to the flu, but no deaths were reported.

“I can’t say if we’ve peaked here for sure, however, it has not peaked for the entire state — widespread flu is still being reported in Missouri and in every bordering state,” he said.

Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

Dr. Olson said antiviral drugs, like Tamiflu, can be given to treat flu illness within the first 48 hours of symptoms. For those outside that time frame, he said your grandmother’s advice of fluids and rest is the best remedy.

“It it important to make sure you stay hydrated,” he said.

Best Defense: Flu Shot

The best defense against the flu, Dr. Olson said, is the flu vaccine.

“The vaccine seems to have protected people fairly well,” he said. “The large majority of people we have seen did not get a flu shot. We did have some cases of people testing positive for Influenza A or B who had the shot or mist, which can be a little less effective, but most had not.”

Dr. Olson said the ER and clinics also have seen cases of viral gastrointestinal illness with symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

“This is not the influenza and it’s not tracked by the health department unless it’s tied to a food illness outbreak,” he said. “But we have seen a lot of it, especially about two weeks ago, but it seems to be tapering off too.”

Dr. Olson urges people who think they might have the flu to stay out of the general population.

“Try not to spread the disease. If you go out or to the doctor’s office, wear a mask,” he recommends.

Countywide Cases Up

Countywide, the number of flu cases continues to increase.

At the end of December, there were 220 flu cases reported in Franklin County, a drastic increase over the same time period last year when less than 20 cases were reported during the same time period.

Of the cases reported this year, 70 percent are children 14 and younger, according to Tony Buel, epidemiology specialist with the Franklin County Department of Health.

Buel noted that flu season has a while to go, so it is still worth it for people to get a flu shot. The shots are $25 at the health department.

Flu cases in Franklin County started being reported Sept. 2.

Cases really started going up the second week of December. But Buel said the state has still not labeled it an epidemic, since the cases have not gone to unusually high levels.

Last year, high numbers of flu did not start showing up until February, and there ended up being more than 700 cases.

Flu season typically peaks in January or February but can go until May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.