Flu season worrying officials

ELKINS – Local health officials are concerned about the frequency and severity of influenza cases so far this winter, although reports that one local woman died this week due to complications brought on by the flu could not be confirmed.

The initial obituary for Ashley Ranee Bonner Long, 26, of Hambleton, said she had been in her usual health and death was being attributed to complications of the flu. However, a full-length obituary issued Monday afternoon by Lohr & Barb Funeral Home in Elkins attributed her death to complications of pneumonia.

Officials at Davis Medical Center said they could not confirm or deny the cause of death because of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) restrictions.

Nonetheless, this flu season has some health officials worried.

A report released by the state Bureau for Public Health said there already has been one pediatric death due to the flu reported. This is the first pediatric death attributed to flu in West Virginia since 2009.

The predominant flu virus so far this season is Influenza A, also known as H1N1, according to the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases.

Bonnie Woodrum, the Randolph-Elkins Health Department’s infectious disease specialist, said, “We know H1N1 is in our area. Almost all flu reported in West Virginia and nationwide is H1N1.”

H1N1 is the same virus that emerged in 2009, causing a nationwide pandemic. The virus has continued to circulate since the pandemic as a seasonal flu virus, but this is the first season since the pandemic that this virus has circulated so widely, according to the CDC.

West Virginia is currently located in the moderate/high category on the ILI Activity Level Indicator that is published each week by the CDC.

Kimberly Ledden, an RN at the Tucker County Health Department, said she has only seen one reported positive case of the flu, which was the influenza A strain.

“We have a widespread advisory for H1N1 in the whole state,” Ledden said. “Wash your hands and get vaccinated.

“People with underlying conditions need to be extra careful.”

Typical flu symptoms consist of fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat and head and body aches.

High fever is one of the defining characteristics of the flu. If you don’t have the rise in fever, it is likely just a cold, officials said.

Another characteristic of the flu is that it is a “sudden onset” condition, which means you could feel fine when you go to bed and wake up with all the symptoms.

Officials urge residents to get a flu vaccination. Vaccines can be found in numerous locations, including doctor’s offices, pharmacies and retail stores.

Flu vaccines can help reduce doctor’s visits, missed work, hospitalization and even death.

Woodrum said, “It’s not too late to vaccinate, and (remember to) stay home when you are sick.”

Misti Shine, an RN and infection preventionist at Davis Medical Center, echoed these sentiments. “It’s not too late to be vaccinated,” she said. “It can take up to two weeks to build immunity after being vaccinated.”

Other ways to help protect against the flu virus are staying away from people who may be contagious, good hand-washing hygiene and, if you start to feel the symptoms of the flu, getting to the doctor as soon as possible.

Antibiotics, such as Tamiflu, work best if they are taken within 48 hours of contracting the virus.

If you have the flu, try to get plenty of fluids and rest, along with staying at home to lower the possibility of spreading the virus to other people, officials said.

If you must go out, masks are available that can be worn to avoid spreading the illness, experts advise.