PARKERSBURG - At least one local resident has died due to influenza-related illness, officials confirmed Wednesday.
Jessica Woods, interim epidemiologist for the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, said one "elderly individual" has died in Wood County from flu-related illness. Woods said it is, so far, the only confirmed flu-related death reported to the health department, which serves six counties in West Virginia.
On Tuesday, officials with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said at least two deaths in Kanawha County have been linked to flu-related illness. In both cases the people were elderly and had other health issues as well.
Woods said such deaths are only reported to the health department if they occur within a nursing home or are a child under the age of 18. The elderly and very young are considered at risk for complications from influenza.
Woods said influenza numbers are reported by area schools and through seven "sentinel" sites throughout the health department's six-county region.
"Those doctors report to us the number of cases they see. They also do random swabs to test for influenza," she said.
Though current numbers were not immediately available Wednesday, Woods said West Virginia has been identified as one of 29 states with a high rate of influenza this season, and the numbers were consistent in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
"Throughout our region, things are looking fairly similar," to the state as a whole, she said.
Areas of the country are being battered by record numbers of influenza-related illness and deaths. Officials are urging people to get flu shots if they have not already and to follow good hygiene practices, such as covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces and staying home from work or school while they are ill.
Teresa Morehead, coordinator of health services for Wood County Schools, said some area schools have seen an increase in influenza-like illness in the past week. An average of 8-10 schools a day see double-digit absence rates, she said.
However, the county as a whole continues to have its absence rate hover around 8.5 percent.
"We're not seeing any specific pockets of schools with issues, but a lot of the same schools continue to have higher absence rates," she said.
The school system continues to provide educational support for students, teaching them good handwashing habits, how to sneeze or cough into the crook of their arms, and encouraging parents to keep ill students at home until they have gone without a fever for at least 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing medication.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.