West Virginia Covid-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh cautioned once again Wednesday a tougher than usual flu season is coming.

“We see increasingly clear evidence that we are going to see a rather severe flu season,” Marsh said during Gov. Jim Justice’s pandemic briefing, with the Southeast already being hit hard. “We are seeing some of that now.”

Not only that, Marsh said the new Covid variants BQ1 and BQ1.1 continue to spread and they have a “special power” of being able to evade the immune system.

Marsh said the new Omicron booster has “beneficial effects” on boosting immune systems with the new variants.

He also said this variant can include a new symptom: sneezing.

“That’s something we really haven’t seen before, but sneezing may be a trigger to tell you that you have Covid,” he said.

Marsh said people who suspect they may have it should be “very aggressive about testing” at home because a new study shows that the antiviral Paxlovid can reduce the chances of developing long Covid by 26 percent and the risk of death by 40 percent.

That includes all ages and people with or without the vaccines, he added.

Long Covid results in symptoms for months after the initial infection.

Marsh said Covid has not gone away and 315 people die each day from it around the country, with 220,000 deaths so far this year.

Getting the flu vaccine as well as the Omicron booster is the crucial preventative and protective measure, he said.

Another factor which is contributing to concern about hospital capacity in the state is RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which impacts small children and the elderly.

As of last week, state health officials said only two hospitals are at capacity and meetings are held twice a week with hospitals around the state and the West Virginia Hospital Association on making sure capacity is available and supplies are adequate.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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