While anyone can get the flu, experts say seniors and kids are typically the age groups that are at greater risk of serious flu-related complications that can lead to hospitalization or even death, so they are urged to take extra precautions to protect themselves from the virus.
David Parris, physician at Mercy Clinic in Fort Scott, said "seniors and children are a more vulnerable population." He said numbers of flu cases are up this year following a recent outbreak of the virus.
"I have seen more cases of the flu this year than in the past six years -- approximately two times more," Parris said. "We continue to give the vaccine daily and diagnose the flu daily as well. If you didn't get the flu shot, you're likely to get the flu."
Hospital spokeswoman Tina Rockhold said demand for flu vaccine is way up.
"Requests for flu vaccine at Mercy are up approximately 500 percent over last year," said Craig Campbell, Mercy pharmacy director. "For example, if we had 20 requests last January, this January we expect to receive about 100 requests. The good news: Mercy has enough flu vaccine in stock to meet the current demand.
"We highly recommend patients to get the vaccine if you haven't yet already," Campbell added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already reported widespread outbreaks in many states, a news release said.
Parris offered a few tips for seniors and children to help prevent and fight the flu: proper handwashing, avoiding crowds and getting vaccinated.
"If a person has a fever or unusual respiratory symptoms, get checked by a physician and then stay home," he said.
A news release from the Home Instead Senior Care franchise network said senior care experts also recommend the following tips:
* Get a flu shot. Experts strongly encourage all seniors and those in frequent contact with seniors to get vaccinated if they haven't already done so. Medicare covers one vaccine per flu season.
* Practice good handwashing. Wash hands with soap frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
* Cover coughs and sneezes. Droplets from a sneeze or a cough can travel up to six feet. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of the tissue immediately. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into the elbow, not the hands.
* Stay in to stay well. If there's an outbreak in the area, avoid trips to crowded shopping centers or community events.
* Avoid contact. Those with flu-like symptoms, especially school-aged children, should avoid contact with senior loved ones. Enlist the help of friends, neighbors or professional caregivers to take over caregiving responsibilities, if necessary.
* Rest well, eat well. Get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy foods. Experts also recommend a diet rich in Vitamins C and D and plenty of exercise.
Senior loved ones who begin to show symptoms of the flu should contact their health care provider immediately.
Antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, are available to help make symptoms less severe, the release said.
Ninety percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older, the release said.
Flu vaccines are available at several locations, including doctors' offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as through many employers and some schools.
"You may get a flu shot at a Mercy provider, including Mercy Convenient Care," Parris said. "You don't even need to see a physician; you can call your Mercy Clinic and make arrangements to get vaccinated."
Rockhold said the cost for flu shots is $25 if not billed to insurance or self-paid.
"Most insurance companies will cost the flu shot at 100 percent; for those companies that do not cover at 100 percent, the patient is responsible for the balance," she said.
The flu virus spreads through the air and enters the body through the nose and mouth.
A person can catch it if they are around an infected person with coughs or sneezes and by touching the same surface that an infected person has touched, such as a doorknob or computer keyboard.
Symptoms of influenza include fever, dry cough, extreme tiredness and muscle aches.
Complications can include pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and dehydration; influenza may also worsen other chronic conditions, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said.