The H1N1 flu that sickened thousands of Missourians last fall still presents a potentially serious health threat, despite the public perception that the flu pandemic is over.
While hospital emergency rooms are no longer being overwhelmed with flu patients, people are still becoming ill with the flu. So far this flu season, 28,461 Missourians have had the flu, about 42 times as many as last year. Nearly 66 percent of this year's flu patients were children younger than 14 years of age.
Because young children are among those hardest hit by the H1N1 flu, state health officials are urging parents to make sure their young children have received the H1N1 vaccine. Children under 10 years old require two doses of the H1N1 vaccine given about 30 days apart.
Margaret Donnelly, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the number of flu cases is still running above normal.
"Though people may have the impression that the H1N1 flu has run its course, it is just too early to say the threat has passed," said Margaret Donnely said. "People are still getting sick with the flu and we certainly are still keeping watch on the H1N1 situation. We urge people to protect their families against the flu, especially children who need that second dose to be fully protected."
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as many as 80 million Americans have ben infected with H1N1 flu and an estimated 11,000 people have died. More than 1,000 of those deaths involved children and toll continues to rise, with nine more children succumbing to the H1N1 virus last week.
Children younger than five years of old have higher rates of hospitalization caused by H1N1 than any other age group, and school-age children have the highest rates of infection, the CDC says.
The H1N1 vaccine is now widely available and free of charge if obtained from a local health agency. The vaccine is made the same way seasonal flu vaccines are produced every year and has been found equally safe and effective based on evidence from some 65 million Americans who have received it.
For more information, contact your local public health agency, visit the state health departmenet's Web site at www.dhss.mo.gov or call the H1N1 InfoLine at 877-358-4141.