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Flu season worst in decade

SWVA hardest-hit region in the state

By TRAVIS HANDY

travis@southwesttimes.com

The 2013 flu season is off to a raging start across the United States and, here in Virginia, the 2012-13 Influenza Surveillance Activity Level is described as “widespread.”

Widespread activity is defined by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) as “outbreaks of influenza or increases in ILI (influenza-like illness) cases and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza in at least half the regions of the state.”

Reports from across Virginia indicate at least a 30 percent increase in flu cases since the holidays. Reports out of West Virginia indicate flu cases topped 10,000 as of mid-December.

With area schools and businesses returning to their normal schedules after the Christmas and New Year holidays, many people are scrambling to get flu shots and see their family doctors as what is being described by some as “the worst flu season in a decade” takes hold.

Dr. Laurie Forlano, with VDH, says the department tracks trends in influenza activity rather than exact numbers of cases. They track markers of activity, such as percentage of visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers for flu-like illnesses, as well as laboratory data, as markers for influenza. They also count and respond to reported outbreaks in certain settings such as nursing homes, schools and healthcare facilities to get a picture of flu activity in the state.

“I’d say flu is everywhere in Virginia,” said Forlano. “It’s in all five regions of the state. I can say the southwest region of the state has seen a more rapid increase in … influenza-like illness. I can’t say what the reason for that is, because it’s hard to say.”

She says activity levels are high all across Virginia.

According to Forlano, VDH has seen cases of Influenza A and B, as well as another sub-type that has historically been associated with more severe flu seasons—Influenza A H3N2.

Forlano says Influenza A H3N2 has gotten a lot of attention this year and has been associated in the past with flu seasons that have higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. Nationwide, there have been 18 pediatric deaths reported during the 2012-13 flu season.

“We’ve certainly seen that (Influenza A H3N2) type in Virginia. I can’t say it’s the majority of the strains, but it is certainly a lion’s share of what we’ve been seeing, at least in the laboratory data that we have,” said Forlano, adding that nationwide, it is the type of virus that is predominant.

Though it is hard to predict what the rest of the season will bring, signs point to a very active flu season. Most flu seasons last from three to four months, with the season starting a little earlier than typical in Virginia this year.

Symptoms of the flu generally present as fever and cough or sore throat – typically one or the other but sometimes both. That combination of symptoms is usually accompanied by achiness and a general ‘crummy’ feeling, Forlano said. Individuals with any underlying problems such as a lung condition or heart disease should certainly call their healthcare providers and seek treatment.

Every is in agreement of one thing, “It isn’t too late to get a flu shot!” Flu vaccines are available through healthcare providers, the local health department and through most retail pharmacies.

Area pharmacies have indicated differing amounts of flu vaccinations on hand, and anyone seeking a vaccine from a source other than their primary physician or urgent care facility can find them at most pharmacies without great difficulty. Calling ahead will save time. Those vaccines are normally made available in pharmacies including CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, Rite-Aid and Food City, locally.

As usual, the best medication is prevention. It is recommended that you wash your hands frequently, get a flu shot, and if you live with someone who is sick, limit activity and contact as best you can. Adults and children should stay home until they are feeling better and no fever is present, cover your cough, and keep hands away from the nose, mouth and eyes.

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