Health officials: South MS children hit hard by early flu epidem - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Health officials: South MS children hit hard by early flu epidemic

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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

State health officials are calling it an epidemic in Mississippi. The flu virus is hitting our state a lot earlier, and the symptoms are more severe.

Influenza season usually peaks in January, February and March. But for some reason, this year, one strain of the flu is targeting Mississippi and other southern states. Right now, it seems preschoolers are the hardest hit.

The flu virus took quite a toll on the little ones at Good Shepherd Christian Academy in Gulfport.

"We were hit very hard with the flu. It actually started Friday when we were on a field trip. Two of the children got sick," said Sandra Ziegenhagen, Academy Owner and Director.

This week, ten children are still out sick, mainly the four-year-olds.

"We've never had this many at one time. This has been a first for us. It's kind of a shock because it's so early," said Ziegenhagen.

"Nobody's more surprised than the CDC, because it isn't just us. It's Louisiana, Alabama, it's up into Arkansas. The whole southern states for some unknown reason, is hit hard with this stuff," said Dr. Robert Travnicek, District Health Officer with the Mississippi Department of Health.

He said the first cases of the flu in Mississippi surfaced about three weeks ago. In Harrison County, ER doctors reported half of their non-trauma cases were flu-like illnesses. Travnicek said of the cases tested, basically all of them came back positive for "Type A" flu.

"And then all of a sudden it just blew up, and so you're actually in an epidemic. Whether we have a single phase of this or we're going to wave after wave of this is too early to tell," said Travnicek.

Travnicek said this particular H3N2 virus is like the seasonal flu, except the symptoms are more vicious and the fevers, chills, and aches will last longer. He urged everyone to protect themselves by getting the flu vaccine. And if you do catch the flu, Travnicek has this advice.

"Wash your hands frequently. Don't cough on people. And if you feel sick, don't go to work," said Travnicek.

The director of Good Shepherd Christian Academy also encouraged parents to keep their sick children at home. After a week of battling the flu bug, seven children are expected to come back to class Friday.

"We miss them. Our Christmas program is Monday. We can't have a Christmas program without children," said Ziegenhagen.

State health officials said they don't know how many flu cases there are right now, and so far, there are no reported deaths related to the flu.  It is a good time to get your flu shots, because this happens to be "National Vaccination Week".

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