Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 15, 2012

Flu season — Early arrival merits inoculation


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Influenza is making an early return to the mountains of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. That’s why health officials in the region are also encouraging area residents to be vaccinated early this year.

In Mercer County, and in neighboring Tazewell County, only a select number of doctors, clinics and emergency rooms report illnesses with flu-like symptoms, so knowing exactly how many people have caught the flu is difficult, according to area health care providers.

But there is an uptick in the number of cases of individuals reporting flu-like symptoms in the region.

“It’s still going up slightly,” Judy Bolton, RN, of the Mercer County Health Department, said earlier this week. “Not every doctor in the county reports to us.”

Getting the vaccine early is always a good idea as it still takes time to build one’s immunity up against the flu.

“You get some protection within two weeks, but it takes one month to get full protection from the vaccine,” Bolton said. “People need to get their flu shot as soon as possible.”

Mercer County also has been seeing cases of respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses that have been making people sick. Sometimes it is difficult to know which of the three viruses — influenza, respiratory or gastrointestinal — is making a person ill, according to Bolton.

Across the state line in Virginia, health officials also are reporting a number of cases involving flu-like illnesses. The state health department does not monitor exact numbers of cases because those are difficult to obtain, but trends are monitored, according to Robert Parker, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health.

Physicians can treat illnesses based on symptoms, so they often do not perform any tests to determine if a sickness is being caused by the flu. The benefits often do not justify the expense, according to Parker. In other cases, people who catch the flu do not visit their doctors or a clinic.

Influenza activity usually lasts from October to May, according to the CDC. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older receive the yearly flu vaccine when it becomes available in their community.

The flu can be especially serious for babies, children, pregnant women, adults 65 years and older and people with certain long-term medical conditions, including lung disease, heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, or those with weak immune systems, according to the Virginia Department of Health. However, even healthy people can get the flu and should protect themselves by getting the flu vaccine every year, health officials say.

While it may be perceived as an inconvenience to some, getting a flu shot is truly the best way to protect yourself, your family and your loved ones this holiday season and winter.

Influenza activity is already being reported in the region, but it’s still too early to predict if this will be a bad, or normal, flu season. But we can take steps today to safeguard ourselves against a bad flu season in the weeks ahead.

Now is a good time to consider a flu shot.