COLUMBIA, Mo. - It's a virus that kills an average of 20,000 to 25,000 Americans every year. Health officials say the flu season is still very active and has widespread cases reported in Missouri.
All it takes is a sneeze from someone with the flu to put people at risk, according to doctors. And while there are ways to protect yourself, health experts warn they might not work as well as you think.
Doctors say this year, the H1N1 strain of influenza A has been hitting hard, affecting young healthy adults.
So far, two flu deaths in Boone County and one in Cole County have been reported this season, but actual numbers are expected be higher.
"There's a little activity in the flu B strains," said Dr. Michael Cooperstock, Medical Director of MU Health Care's Infection Control Department . "There's two of them in the area starting to cook up a bit. So we don't know if we are going to get that second wave."
Doctors say people coughing or sneezing without properly covering up can spread the virus, and if you aren't taking the right precautions, you could be at risk.
Trina Teacutter is a nursing supervisor at the Columbia-Boone County Health Department. She heads into classrooms and health fairs to make sure people are properly washing their hands.
She uses a product called Glitterburg. It's a fluorescent lotion that shows up under a U-V lamp to see how well people wash their hands. It also comes in a powder form.
Teacutter and ABC 17's Kristie Reeter used the lotion to show what could be missing while you wash your hands.
Teacutter and Reeter both rubbed the lotion on their hands. Afterwards, Teacutter did a thorough wash, using the proper technique to wash her hands, getting her wrists, any jewelry and nail beds.
Reeter did a quick ten second hand wash to compare.
When both put their hands under the U-V lamp, you could see that the longer, more complete wash payed off.
ABC 17 News then took the powder form of Glitterbug into the station for an experiment. The powder was put on items many people would be touching like a keyboard, a mouse and a card going around the office for everyone to sign.
After about 10 people signed the card, they were pulled into a conference room to see how far the simulated germs spread using a U-V lamp.
It showed up on the first three people who signed the card really well. The "germs" also showed up on the producer's computer the powder was applied to.
Health experts say the flu virus can live on hard surfaces between two to four hours. That's why people need to stay in if they are sick.
If you do catch the flu, there are treatment options available to avoid further complications.
Doctors are still urging people to get vaccinated each year. They say it's not too late in February, especially if you have risk factors or a small baby at home.
Vaccines remain available in Mid-Missouri. At the Columbia-Boone County Health Department on Worley, walk-in vaccines are welcome.
At the Cole County Health Department on Industrial Drive in Jefferson City, they also have vaccines available. You can call (573) 636-2181 for more information.