The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 3, 2013

Flu season hits early; severity unknown

By Sarah Plummer
Register-Herald Reporter

While West Virginia, like 31 other states across the nation, is reporting widespread occurrences of flu-like illnesses, this data alone does not indicate this year’s flu season will last longer or be worse than years past, said State Influenza Coordinator Shannon McBee.

What is unusual about this flu season is that it is coming earlier than it has in the past, meaning that more people reported flu-like symptoms in November and December than in the previous three years.

Reports show currently there are more than 10,000 people with influenza-like illness across the state as compared to 6,600 in Dec. 2011.

During the 2011–12 influenza season, influenza activity occurred at low levels during October through December, increased in January and peaked with 21,540 cases reported to the state in late February.

According to McBee, 2011 is considered a normal year for severity.

The available data cannot indicate severity of this year’s flu infection, she stressed.

“We could have already reached the threshold and will see numbers decline or we may see numbers continue to rise, but it is hard to tell,” she said.

McBee explained that there have been several mild influenza seasons since the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic.

State charts show that the 2009 Pandemic also began early in the season; however, numbers of flu-like illnesses reported by local health departments had reached 13,000 by the end of September in 2009.

As of December, the state reports 1,131 cases of influenza-like illnesses in Summers County. While these cases are not confirmed as flu, the numbers seem high for a county with a population under 14,000.

Candy Hurd, director of nursing for the Beckley-Raleigh County Health Department, said her team has administered thousands of flu shots this year for Raleigh County citizens.

She said that most of confirmed influenza viruses are AH3, which are well-matched to the 2012-2013 influenza vaccine, offering good protection for the types of viruses present.

Historically “H3N2 seasons” are more severe, with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.

Hurd encouraged everyone to stay home if they are feeling ill, cover their cough, and practice good hand hygiene to help curb the spread of flu-like symptoms.

The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health recommends those who are sick should avoid school or work for 24 hours after their fever is gone to prevent spreading the illness.

More information on how this year’s flu season will be forthcoming as the Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology is currently working with local health departments to investigate pockets of flu activity across the state.

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