If your body hasn't already told you, here are two charts detailing how bad the flu is in Kansas, Douglas County
Walk into Lawrence Memorial Hospital this week and you’ll think you’ve stumbled into a bank robbers convention. So many people wearing masks. Efforts to defend against germs have kicked into high gear and with good reason. A new report ranks Kansas as being the sickest state in the country this week.
To tell you the data behind this, I first have to tell you a story about a thermometer — so stick with me. (If you didn’t laugh at that, I’m going to assume it is because you are ill.) A company called Kinsa produces a digital thermometer that connects to your smartphone and thus stores all types of data. Using that data, the company has insight into how sick various parts of the country are at any given moment.
Using that data, Kinsa says Kansas is 6.6 percent sick this week, just beating out Missouri, which is at 6.5 percent. Iowa is not feeling too well either with a No. 3 ranking at 6.3 percent ill. The national average is 5 percent sick levels.
Perhaps more interesting is Kansas’ illness level peaked at 5.3 percent last year, so this is yet another piece of evidence that the flu bug really is more serious this season. (I was convinced when we switched out the breakfast orange juice for Pepto-Bismol.) And as the chart below shows, we are way above the 10-year average.
We also have some local numbers that are eye-popping. The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department runs a flu surveillance program that tracks the percentage of Douglas County residents who go to an emergency room reporting flu-like symptoms. We reported in early December that there were signs we were on the verge of flu season hitting us hard, and the numbers have proved that.
At the beginning of the year, the Douglas County flu rate was about 11 percent compared with about 5 percent a year earlier. Now, the flu rate has climbed to almost 16 percent. That is well above last year’s peak, which was at 12 percent.
As the chart below shows, we have been on a steep and steady rise since early December. But the chart also shows that in 2016-2017, this is the time of year when the number of flu cases began to stabilize. Flu rates held steady at about 12 percent, then really began to drop off by the third week in February. By the first of March flu rates were below 6 percent.
It probably is worth reminding everyone that the flu — influenza, not the stuff that causes you to call in sick on a sunny Friday — is a serious deal. The flu was a contributing factor in about 1,200 deaths in Kansas in the 2016-2017 flu season, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. While the flu vaccine is the No. 1 recommendation health care professionals have for combating the flu, the Centers for Disease Control also stresses good hand washing, covering your cough and doing your part to not spread the illness if you contract it. That means staying out of circulation for at least 24 hours after your fever has broken.
And, yes, maybe wearing a mask is a good idea — although I’m skeptical of the motives behind the people who keep telling me I should completely cover my face at all times.