TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Kansas health officials admit the flu season is a little different this year.
Not only is it starting earlier than usual, Stormont-Vail pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Jo-an Harris says it also seems to causing more serious symptoms.
It's not just full-blown influenza, either. Dr. Harris says other flu-like viruses and, in younger children, the respiratory condition RSV also have hospital beds filled.
The situation has Stormont taking precautions. Kiosks at hospitals and clinics are stocked with tissues, hand sanitizer and masks - anyone who comes in with any respiratory symptoms is encouraged to don one. Plus, educational materials are prominently displayed. Dr. Harris it's really an awareness program to pay attention.
Topeka's St. Francis Health Center also has a similar educational effort underway for patients and visitors.
Stormont also is asking families to avoid visitors under the age of 16. Dr. Harris says that's because school-age children tend to have the highest incidents of influenza. She says they tend to be the spreaders of viruses and they're also vulnerable to catching them.
To make yourself less vulnerable, frequent hand cleansing can go a long way in heading off germs. But experts say the influenza vaccine is your best shot at protection. Though demand has gone up over the past week as flu outbreaks made national headlines, Dr. Harris says Topeka still has a good supply.
Dr. Harris says the Topeka area also still has the anti-viral medication Tamiflu. However, don't rush for the doctor expecting to get it. It's usually reserved for certain, vulnerable patients and must be given early in the illness. Inn most cases, Dr. Harris says, the virus will run its course.
"It doesn't mean you'll feel good, but it will run its course," she said.
Doctors also say you should let it run its course at home. They say children should only be brought to the emergency room if they develop symptoms such as breathing trouble, dehydration, severe vomiting or aren't waking up or interacting. Likewise, adults should avoid the ER unless they have trouble breathing, severe chest pain, sudden dizziness or confusion.
If you are concerned about your or a loved one's symptoms, Dr. Harris suggests calling your doctor or a service like Health Connections for advice because if you leave home for the ER, the germs go with you - and you're exposed to all the germs from other people who are there.
This was the second year Stormont required all its employees to receive the flu vaccine.
The Topeka Health Connections number is 785-354-5225.