The first big wave of flu season is arriving, and doctors are on alert because the group in which they're seeing a spike in numbers is not the usual at-risk group.
The Centers for Disease Control Prevention says there is a spike in a certain type of flu that hits young and middle-age adults.
Officials say flu viruses are spreading, and the leading strain that's being detected in lab tests is H1N1. That's the same "swine flu" strain that caused a pandemic in 2009.
Doctors around the region say overall, they are seeing severe cases.
According to the CDC, Missouri is experiencing high flu activity. Last week, 744 new cases were reported. Kansas is seeing moderate activity, but two people have died from severe influenza.
In the Kansas City area, there were just 28 cases of the flu reported in November. So far, there are 402 cases in December.
It's particularly targeting those between 25 and 49 years old, health officials say. Of the 402 cases, 41 percent are between 25 and 49. Just 6 percent are infants while 12 percent of the cases are the elderly.
"This year, it seems like we are being hit with a flu strain that is really coming on fast and it is spreading really fast," said Jeff Herschberger, spokesman for the Kansas City Health Department. "Our numbers have really skyrocketed."
The illnesses are a reminder that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot. This year's influenza vaccine protects against the H1N1 strain, and vaccine supplies are good.
Lisa Tinch said she gets a flu shot annually.
"I'm around a lot of people and I work in health care so I know the importance of having a flu shot and that it is preventative," Tinch said.
Some say the flu shot promotes good health, just like brushing your teeth and watching what you eat.
Others say they won't get a flu shot because their bodies reaction to the shot causes them to get the flu. The CDC uses a dead virus to make the vaccine, and experts say you cannot get the flu from a flu vaccine.
If you're sick with flu-like symptoms, the CDC says you should stay home 24 hours after your fever has subsided.
They also say you should wash your hands with soap and water often and cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when you sneeze or cough.
Influenza is much more severe than a cold. Both may have a slight fever and stuffy nose, but the flu virus produces aches in joints, severe headaches and respiratory problems.
"When you actually get the flu, you get fever. You get coughing, all sorts of respiratory problems," Herschberger said. "You are basically knocked on your back for days or weeks."
Flu season typically ends in January, but some can last well into March.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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