Flu season going strong

Area hospitals, physicians and health officials report widespread flu in the local area – and we are only half-way through the flu season.

“We are seeing lots of patients testing positive for the ‘A’ strain of the virus,” said Beth Bond, R.N., infection preventionist at Davis Memorial Hospital. “Our emergency department is treating patients with flu-like symptoms, but the numbers have fallen back to pre-Christmas numbers. Davis Memorial Hospital has been busy with inpatient traffic, but not many of those are flu-related.”

Bond said that people can pass the flu to others one day before symptoms occur and up to seven days after becoming ill.

Randolph County Interim Superintendent of Schools Terry George said local schools have been extra careful to help avoid the spread of the flu.

“Teachers are bringing in extra hand-sanitizing soap, and we are sending additional cleaning supplies to the schools,” George said. “We are promoting lots of hand-washing and encouraging students and teachers with flu-like symptoms to stay home until they are better. This is an excused absence and during flu outbreaks, we do not want students to bring the flu to school.”

St. Joseph’s Hospital in Buckhannon’s emergency department and PromptCare are seeing higher than normal volumes of flu-like symptoms.

“Our numbers of positive flu tests has increased each week since the beginning of the year,” said Lisa Wharton, vice president of public relations and marketing at St. Joseph Hospital. “Our patient volume is up due to the flu, and we have patients testing positive for different strains of the flu.”

Amanda Banaag, regional epidemiologist for Region 7, said flu is classified into three types – A, B and C.

“Type A and B are the strains included in flu vaccinations,” Banaag said. “They are subdivided by the way they are spread, and one is not more severe than the other.”

“When hospitals and physicians take swabs of those with the flu, the information is sent to the Center for Disease Control and they determine the prevalent strains of the flu to determine which ones to include in the following year’s flu vaccine.”

Around the area, local health departments are collecting data on hospitals, clinics and physician offices who report patients with flu-like symptoms.

Rochelle Sutton, R.N., a public health nurse with the Barbour County Health Department, said there have not been lots of people testing positive for flu in the county.

“We had 286 people with symptoms consistent with influenza such as fever, cough and body aches last week,” Sutton said. “Not all of those reported had positive cultures. The previous week, we had report of 373 individuals with flu-like symptoms.”

In Tucker County, Deanna Summerfield, office assistant aid for the county health department, said their numbers of flu-like symptoms almost doubled.

“We had 20 reports of patients with flu-like symptoms last week, compared with 11 reported cases the week before,” Summerfield said. “We are fortunate in that there have been very few cases of flu reported in our nursing home.”

Representatives from the Pocahontas County Health Department reported that there were 61 cases of flu-like symptoms in the last two weeks.

Bonnie Woodrum, infectious disease specialist with the Randolph County Health Department, said flu in the county is still prevalent.

“Last week the schools up the valley were hit hard and had a large number of illnesses,” Woodrum said. “The schools are hitting it hard and are using extra cleaning techniques to try and get the spread under control.”

Woodrum said along with flu-like illnesses, there have been lots of reported cases of strep throat, pneumonia and the stomach virus.

“Be sure to clean door knobs and common areas to keep from spreading the flu,” Woodrum said. “And when you go shopping, use the provided wipes to clean carts before using them.”

Shannon McBee, influenza coordinator for the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health said influenza in West Virginia is widespread.

“Since the beginning of January, more than 11,000 individuals with influenza-like illness have been reported to the state health department,” McBee said. “There have been 1,476 confirmed influenza cases reported to the state health department since October. Influenza AH3 remains the prominent strain seen in West Virginia.”

From a national perspective, McBee reports that this flu season is worse than the average season and is particularly bad for the elderly. The three groups most affected by the flu are the elderly, infants and the very young, and persons with underlying conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease.

Bond recommends practicing respiratory etiquette:

– Wear a mask to protect yourself and others from germs.

– Use a tissue to cover your coughs and sneezes.

– Sneeze or cough into your sleeve if you do not have a tissue.

– Clean hands often.

– Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.

– If you are sick, stay home.

Bond said that even though we are half-way through the flu season, it is not too late to get a flu vaccine.

“Davis Health System is offering a free flu clinic at HomePlus in Elkins Wednesday,” Bond said. “Vaccines will be given to those at least 18 years old from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Woodrum said certain symptoms require checking with a doctor to see if further medical treatment is necessary.

“If you experience chest pain or pressure, call your physician immediately,” Woodrum said. “Other symptoms needing a physician check include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and severe, persistent vomiting.”