PARKERSBURG - The annual influenza season has hit the Mid-Ohio Valley with those suffering stuffy, runny noses with coughing and a fever seeking help in emergency rooms and walk-in care clinics, officials said.
"All of a sudden, in the last week or so, cases of the flu have been showing up," said Dr. Andrew Kitchen, a physician in the emergency room at the Memorial Campus of Camden Clark Medical Center. "The flu has increased in the number of cases exponentially in the last week."
Kitchen said the emergency room is now treating between six and eight cases of the influenza virus each day.
"I had my first two positive cases last week and other physicians reported their first cases a day or two before I saw any," he said.
Jessica Woods, regional epidemiologist with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, said the local population is behind the rest of the nation in flu cases.
"Nationwide is seeing much more of the flu than we are," Woods said. "In fact, West Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and Vermont are the only places that are classified as having sporadic activity by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) while the rest of the country is reporting local, regional and some widespread, which means we have only a few confirmed cases while other states have large numbers."
Woods said there has only been a small number of laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza throughout West Virginia.
"Unfortunately, the majority of the people who are sick won't seek medical attention, so we really don't know how many cases of flu have been in the area," Woods said.
Kitchen said although there has been a quick increase in the number of cases coming into the emergency room, it is not unusual for this time in the flu season.
"It is unusual that we have seen so many cases so quickly, but we seem to be on track to see the peak later this month into February," he said. "This is about what we would expect for this time of the year."
This year's strain is the same H1N1, or swine flu, that caused the influenza pandemic in 2009, according to Woods.
"This isn't a bad thing," she said. "We haven't detected any real changes in the virus between 2009 and this year, so people who received the flu vaccine then could still be inoculated from that shot."
Those experiencing flu-like symptoms are recommended to seek medical attention within the first 48 hours for a prescription of anti-viral medications.
"Tamiflu will help to keep the virus from getting worse and decrease the amount of time you are sick, but you have to start it within 48 hours," Kitchen said. "But prevention is the key when it comes to the flu."
Flu shots are still available throughout the area and will still work, Kitchen and Woods said.
"If you can't get a flu shot, good hygiene is the key," Kitchen said. "Cleaning work stations including phones and computer keyboards as well as washing hands and not touching your face will help keep you from getting the flu."