State health officials today announced that Kansas was experiencing a widespread outbreak of influenza and urged physicians to target dwindling supplies of vaccine to people at the highest risk of severe complications from the illness.
"We've got a lot of influenza throughout the state," Dr. Gail Hansen, deputy state epidemiologist, said.
Health officials said the flu season in Kansas started earlier than usual and has been more aggressive. Two deaths related to the flu have been reported so far; about 1,600 people die annually in Kansas from complications caused by the flu.
Shortages of vaccine have been reported throughout the nation, including Lawrence and many areas of Kansas.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has set up a website and telephone number for physicians to redistribute vaccine from areas of low need to areas of high need.
"We want to make sure that those who need the vaccine the most can still find it," Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, state epidemiologist, said.
Carolyn Gaughan, executive director of the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians, urged doctors to participate in the effort.
"It's the right thing to do and it's the right opportunity," she said.
Groups at a high risk of suffering complications from the flu include children from six months to 23 months of age; persons 65 or older; pregnant women in their second or third trimester during flu season; and persons with chronic health problems, such as diabetes, asthma or weakened immune systems.