Flu hits epidemic levels, Missouri among hardest hit

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Missouri as one of the hardest hit states with more than 40,000 cases so far. (Louis Finley/KTVO)

Hospitals across the country are seeing higher than average flu cases. That's no different at Northeast Regional Medical Center (NRMC) in Kirksville.

"The vaccine is not necessarily holding it at bay like we have in the past," said NRMC’s Hospitalist Intensivist Dr. John Rickelman.

With a vaccine as low as ten percent effective, Rickelman said he's seen flu cases this year begin earlier.

"Missouri has been on diversion occasionally. I know Barnes [Hospital] has been full. Boone [Hospital] has been full," Rickelman said.

The flu is also hitting more people.

"I think it's earlier this year because the vaccine hasn't worked," Rickelman said.

"We're seeing probably close to 40 to 50 percent of the patients daily that we're seeing with the flu. That's actually a diagnosis of the flu," said NRMC Emergency Department Director Tami Western.

Western said that number's doubled compared to last year.

"It seems to be affecting people more in the respiratory wise. It seems to be a little bit more severe than it was last year," Western said.

The flu has been so severe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Missouri as one of the hardest hit states with more than 40,000 cases so far. That's more than six times the cases at this point last year.

"We're getting close to peak season. I don't know if we've reached it yet or not locally ... We haven't declined at all. We're still seeing a lot of patients you know every day with the flu," Western said.

An unexpected snag is also concerning doctors.

"I was unaware how involved Puerto rice was in this," Rickelman said.

Hospitals are facing shortages in IV bags in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

"It is more challenging and it is a more scary feeling, Oh, I might not have certain things for my patient that I might as well otherwise need," Rickelman said.

Puerto Rico produces more IV bags for the United States than any other state or foreign country, and those bags are a necessity for flu patients.

"I think we're trying to be a little bit more careful on how we use certain things," Rickelman said.

This is why Rickleman stresses prevention.

"It is what it is. If you choose not to get vaccinated then you're at risk for that virus, and whether it works for this year, doesn't work this year. Works for percentages I think it's insurance,” Rickelman said.
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