Pediatric nurse practitioner Deann Stephens of Express Care listens to the heartbeat of 2-year-old Avery Asher of East Prairie Wednesday at the Sikeston facility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity continues to increase.
Flu and flu-like illnesses are on the rise locally with medical providers seeing an increase in confirmed cases and even forcing some schools to close due to low attendance.
"It's definitely flu season," said Walter Johnston, family nurse practitioner for Express Care in Sikeston.
Since Feb. 1 Express Care has had 20 confirmed flu cases- but they've had more total cases than they begin noticing patients with the flu about three weeks ago.
"That's not even counting the people who've had flu-like symptoms," Johnston said.
Flu activity continues to increase in the United States, with widespread activity in over 35 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Johnston recalled a recent patient who had the flu who in the 10 minutes he was put in the exam room and swab-tested for the flu fell asleep before Johnston walked in the room because the patient was so exhausted.
Confirmed flu cases have been both types A and B but mostly A, he said.
"The flu test is not 100 percent reliable so if a child comes in, and they seem like they have the flu - even if they test negative - we go ahead and treat them," said pediatric nurse practitioner Deann Stephens of Express Care.
Common flu symptoms include fever, body aches, cough, stuffy nose and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms, Stephens said.
"If you feel like you're having symptoms, you need to come in the first 48 hourse because Tamiflu (antiviral medicine for treatment of the flu) is the most effective if started in the first 48 hours," Stephens said.
If it's too late to be treated with Tamiflu, then patients shoud use pain relievers like Tylenol and Motrin and treat the other symptoms, Stephens said.
"If you have the flu and it hurts to breathe, then you might think about pneumonia and other illnesses like that because you can get complications of the flu so you need to be rechecked," Stephens said. "If you're better and not running a fever and start running temperature again, it can be a sign you've picked up a secondary bacterial infection. You'd want to be rechecked."
Johnston said flu season historically hits in November and Decemeber, but the last couple years it's hit after January in Southeast Missouri.
For the week ending Jan. 28, the Missouri Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report showed the following total flu cases: Scott County, 54; New Madrid County, 21; Mississippi County, 6; Stoddard County, 43; Dunklin County, 41; Pemiscot County, 23; Butler County, 125; Cape County, 246; Bollinger County, 100; and Perry County, 89.
For the week ending Jan. 28, the following number of new confirmed cases were reported: Scott County, 14; New Madrid County, 4; Mississippi County, 0; Stoddard County, 2; Dunklin County, 13; Pemiscot County, 7; Butler County, 22; Cape County, 114; Bollinger County, 36; and Perry County, 26.
Some area schools have closed their doors due to so many students and teachers being ill.
On Monday the Clarkton C-4 District in Dunklin County closed due to flu illnesses and have been closed this week.
Two Bulter County school districts - Twin Rivers R-10 and Neelyville R-4 - are also closed due to illnesses.
Neelyville did not have classes Wednesday and today, and Twin Rivers R-10 will be out for the remainder of the week.
One Scott County school - Kelso C-7 New Hamburg - closed today and Friday due to illness, where superintendent Kim Burger said the attendance rate was at 81 percent Wednesday. Staff were going to complete a disinfection process of the building during the long weekend, she said.
Historically, school district officials usually don't begin considering closing school due to illness until the attendance falls to the low 80s.
But not everyone is being impacted by the flu.
Melissa Rhodes, family nurse practitioner at Bootheel Counseling Services' family medical clinic, said while they have not had any positive flu results, they have noticed an upswing in illnesses this month.
"We've just seen a dramatic increase with upper respiratory illnesses and markedly increased with the holidays over," Rhodes said.
Fara Jones, supterintendent of Kelly Schools in Benton, said as of Wednesday afternoon, attendance was good districtwide. The elementary school was at 94 percent, middle school at 93 percent and high school at 89 percent.
"The high school is a bit low, but we get concerned when districtwide attendance is in the low 770 and 80 percent rance," Jones said.
It's not just the student attendance that weighs on school officials' minds.
"I know in talking with some of the area schools, it's hitting their staff, too, and getting the substitutes to come in and to cover for the teachers can be challenging," she said.
It's never too late to take precautions against the flu, Stephens said.
"Even though the flu shot isn't 100 percent effective, prevention is the best thing so everyone needs to get a flu shot," Stephens said. She also noted the flu shot does not give people the flu.
"It's not a live vaccine so it cannot give you the flu," she said. Practicing good hand washing and covering coughs will help prevent spreading the illness, Stephens said.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because germs spread this way, according to the CDC.
And if someone is sick, they need to stay home, she said.
"Don't send your kids to school sick," Stephens said. "Don't go to work sick because that just spreads it."