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Influenza hits Pratt

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt County Health Department Director Darcie Van Der Vyver gives Nancy Smith (left) a vaccination for influenza Thursday at the health department in Pratt. Flu shots are still available, and recommended by health officials to combat potentially serious illness this winter.

When flu-like symptoms hit Harold Windholz, 86, of Pratt, last week he knew it wasn’t going to be a good experience.
“It started in my chest, it just got real tight. I could hardly breathe,” Windholz said. “It knocked me out for two days. I was dizzy, didn’t feel good and I was spitting up yellow stuff.”
Windholz said he stayed home, didn’t go anywhere, propped himself up while sleeping and just tried to stay warm while drinking plenty of fluids. After two days he was no longer running a fever, and though he felt weak, he ventured out to get himself a newspaper.
“It was no fun,” he said. “I got a flu shot like I was supposed to, so maybe that helped me get over it quicker, but I certainly didn’t enjoy it.”
Students at USD 382 Pratt and USA 438 Skyline have also been affected by flu-like illness in Pratt over the past several weeks.
“We had more than 30 students missing school last week for illnesses,” said Pratt Superintendent Tony Helfrich. “We have had illness numbers running 2-4 times higher than normal for our middle school and elementary.”
On Monday, Feb. 3, Helfrich said 44 students at Southwest Elementary were out with the flu.
“We do have teachers ill as well,” Helfrich said.  “Getting subs is challenging at the moment.”
USD 382 school nurse Glenda Houdyshell said that students who came in to her office with complaints of head-ache or nausea were helped with their concerns and checked for fever.
“We have guidelines that they stay home for 5 days if diagnosed with influenza, or at least 24-hours after a fever has lifted,” she said. “A fever above 99.8 is automatic for sending a student home.  But, we are going to look at all symptoms and review the student's history before making a decision with students not showing a fever.”
At Skyline USD 438, there were fewer cases of students missing school for flu-like illness, but there were some, according to school nurse Heidi McKennon.
“Mostly we’ve just had a few kids complaining of headaches and fevers, those have been the main symptoms so far this year,” McKennon said. "Students running a fever of 100 degrees or higher need to remain home. The students and families have been real good about following those guidelines."
Pratt County Health Department Director Darcie Van Der Vyver, RN, said that while most people received their flu shots in October 2019, it was still very important to come in and get a flu shot if one had not gotten one yet.
“It still takes two weeks for a flu shot to become effective, but flu season can go on until May,” Van Der Vyver said. “We have plenty of vaccines for the flu still available, and they are matching the strains better than in previous years.”
Van Der Vyver said those needing flu vaccinations could still be eligible for free shots of the 317 variety, as long as those supplies were still available for certain age groups. Walk-ins are always welcome at the health department, 712 S. Main, Pratt.
Nancy Smith, who works with juvenile corrections in Pratt, stopped in at the county health department to get a flu shot on Thursday, January 23, because she said, in her line of work she comes in contact with a lot of different people from different places.
“I usually get a flu shot at the beginning of the season in early fall,” Smith said. “But for some reason it just slipped my mind and I didn’t get it done. So far, I’ve been lucky, but I’m glad it is still available.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, fewer than half of adults got a flu shot last season, but Liza Szabo with Kaiser Health News reported that influenza has already sickened at least 13 million Americans this winter, hospitalizing 120,000 and killing 6,600, according to the CDC.
“And flu season hasn’t even peaked,” Szabo said. “In a bad year, the flu kills up to 61,000 Americans. Worldwide, the flu causes up to 5 million cases of severe illness worldwide and kills up to 650,000 people every year.”
Szabo said influenza poses a far greater threat to Americans than the Novel Coronavirus from China that has made recent headlines around the world.
The CDC reported last week that the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan is blamed for more than 800 illnesses and 26 deaths, with an estimated 4,000 people infected.
There are no current cases of coronavirus in the state of Kansas, as a possible case was confirmed negative in Douglas County on Monday.
Symptoms of the flu are somewhat similar to the coronavirus, but come on abruptly with fever, aches, chills, headache, chest discomfort and cough. The coronavirus, which is only a risk for individuals who have been exposed to travelers from Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China or others confirmed infected, takes at least two to 14 days for symptoms to appear. Those symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing, according to KDHE secretary Lee Norman.
Back in Pratt, Paul Carrington, Director of Quality Control at Pratt Regional Medical Center, said people with cases of flu-like illnesses were coming in for treatment at PRMC.
“Right now we have surpassed the number of cases compared to last year, but many of the cases presented here are not the flu,” Carrington said. “At this time we are seeing a lot of viral and upper respiratory illnesses, but they are not the flu. We test for the difference, looking for fever and cough in the upper-respiratory viral illnesses.”
Carrington confirmed there were flu cases in the community, but did not feel it appropriate to confirm a specific number of those cases.
“We do have flu in our community,” he said. “If you can catch it in the first 24 hours treatment may help, otherwise it usually takes 5-7 days to run it’s course.”
Carrington recommended all those who had not gotten a flu shot yet, to do so as soon as possible.