PARKERSBURG - The annual flu season has made an early appearance in the Mid-Ohio Valley, an area health expert said.
"Last week we described the flu activity as sporadic," said Patrick Burke, regional epidemiologist with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department.
Sporadic, as described by Burke, is when there are some individual cases with a few scattered groups of cases in an area.
"We had our first positive laboratory report in Marion County, but the flu is here," Burke said.
Burke said it is a little bit early in the flu season to be seeing positive cases of the expected strain, influenza type A, of which the flu vaccine has been formulated to prevent.
Typically, the formulation of the influenza vaccine is different each year to accommodate for the different strain of the virus expected to be most prevalent that season.
Because this year's flu season appears to be starting early, Burke said it could mean this year's flu season could be more severe than those in the recent past.
"Because some states are reporting more activity and we are seeing positive tests that are elevated for this time of year, we may have a stronger flu season."
So far, Maine is the only state reporting regional influenza activity, which is categorized as groups of cases with more widespread activity. Eight states - Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, New York, Texas and Wyoming - are reporting local activity, which is more positive tests in localized areas.
Along with West Virginia, there are 33 states reporting regional activity, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov).
Burke was quick to point out that in the past two years the flu activity has been mild.
"Right now we are keeping an eye on flu activity and working with health care providers and clinics in the area to keep up with how the season is shaping up," he said.
This year's flu vaccine is now available in a variety of places throughout the area. It is recommended that everyone over the age of 6 months receive the vaccine.
Flu shots are typically available beginning in October to make sure that people have flu coverage when the season begins.
Burke said that anyone who shows symptoms of having the flu should stay away from people, which includes staying home from work and school. Those with a cough are recommended to cough into their elbow and continuously wash their hands.
"Influenza is spread from contact with an infected person or just items they have touched or have been touched by droplets from a cough or sneeze," Burke said. "While washing hands and covering your mouth is a plus, the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to stay at home if you're sick."