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Flu season kicks into high gear

March 4, 2011

PARKERSBURG - With 2011 in full swing, the local health department, doctors' offices and hospitals are seeing an increased number of influenza-like illnesses than in the past few weeks, an official said.

"We started to see cases of seasonal flu and H1N1 throughout the state in mid-January," said Patrick Burke, regional epidemiologist with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department.

In the week ending Jan. 8, West Virginia, along with 15 other states, reported to have local influenza activity, which translates to outbreaks of influenza, increases in influenza-like illnesses and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza in a single region of the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the end of the week of Jan. 29, West Virginia was experiencing moderate flu-like activity.

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With 2011 in full swing, the local health department, doctors’ offices and hospitals are seeing an increased number of influenza-like illnesses than in the past few weeks.

The flu activity in Ohio was listed as minimal.

The CDC reported that while influenza activity in the nation has decreased in several indicators, it is unlikely that the illness' activity has peaked for the season.

"We are expecting the season to peak (locally) in late January and early February, which is much later than last year's peak, which was in October," Burke said.

With the current rates of influenza-like illness, the peak will likely be in February. Burke said it is unknown why the two seasons are peaking at such different times during the flu season.

"Each flu season is different," he said. "While we can try to predict how each strain of influenza will react, it is really only an educated guess."

According to the CDC, flu seasons are unpredictable in timing, severity and duration of the illness as well as the season. Flu activity usually peaks in the first two months of each year.

The health department does not expect the current flu season to be as active as last year's as long as people take precautions, such as getting a seasonal flu shot. As of mid-January, the department had given nearly 7,000 shots in the region and had a plentiful supply to continue providing immunization," Burke said.

This year's flu season, while unpredictable, is not expected to be as bad as last year or have shortages of vaccine, as has happened in the past.

While there were a number of people hospitalized and a local woman died of H1N1, Burke said the previous year was not as active as expected.

"Last year was a bit of a softball because we didn't see the number of cases of H1N1 that we were expecting," Burke said. "That could possibly be from the number of people who received immunization as well as those who had a previous strain of H1N1."

During the 2009-2010 flu season, the MOVHD gave more than 20,000 H1N1 vaccinations in its six-county coverage area, which includes Wood, Calhoun, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane and Wirt counties.

To prepare for flu season, vaccinations are recommended for those at risk, including people 65 years of age and older, those with chronic medical conditions, children 6 months up to 5 years, women who are pregnant or will become pregnant during flu season, and household contacts or caregivers of persons that fall in one or more categories listed above.

"Those are the 'at risk' categories, but everybody should get the vaccine," Burke said.

Each year the formulation of the influenza vaccine is different to accommodate the different strain of the virus expected to be most prevalent that season. The 2010-2011 vaccine will protect against three different flu viruses: the H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season.

"With the H1N1 vaccine as part of the seasonal shot, it is easier on the patients as well as those working in the clinics," Burke said.



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