Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 3, 2013

Healthcare officials: Flu-like symptoms on rise across area

KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — The flu is on the rise across the two Virginias with the number of cases of flu-like symptoms increasing drastically in the past few weeks.

Judy Bolton, RN, a public health nurse with the Mercer County Health Department, said the amount of flu-like illness in the county increased by more than 100 cases in the past two weeks alone.

“It’s definitely out there and definitely going up,” Bolton said. “This past week through Friday, we had 359 reports of flu-like symptoms and some of those have proven positive.  The week before we had 256, so it jumped almost 100 cases in one week. This is not reflecting how badly it is in the community because not everyone goes to the doctor and reports their flu-like symptoms. Not all doctor’s offices report to us, so these are just the cases that were bad enough to have medical care.”

The Department of Health and Human Resources show 10,676 confirmed flu cases across West Virginia as of Dec. 18. Bolton said the strain of the flu most commonly being reported is covered by this year’s flu vaccine.

“The flu that has been identified is still the H3N2, which is what they identified nationally as the strain that is circulating the most,” Bolton said. “That is the same strain we are seeing here and this strain is included in this year’s flu vaccine.”

Though the number of flu-like cases is on the increase, Bolton said the health department is not seeing much of an increase in the number of people coming to be vaccinated.

“It’s never too late to be vaccinated,” Bolton said. “It would be better if you had gotten the shot before the flu hit, but if you haven’t been vaccinated at all we encourage you to vaccinate. We still have plenty of vaccine and recommend everyone get vaccinated before they get sick. We have seen a little increase in the number of people coming in since people realized the flu was here, but it’s not been dramatic. We vaccinaten children 6 months old and up and would like to see a lot more people coming in to be vaccinated.”

The Mercer County Health Department is continuing to offer flu shots between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointments are not needed to receive the vaccine.

Robert Parker, a spokesperson with the Virginia Department of Health, said flu-like activity is also increasing in Southwestern Virginia.

“Statewide activity is at a widespread level earlier than it was last year,” Parker said. “Southwest Virginia shows flu-like activity levels slightly higher than other regions of the state. We are asking people to take standard precautions to prevent the spread of the flu. To my knowledge, there is no report comparing flu activity among the districts, and it’s important to remember that much flu goes uncounted. Though we are often asked ‘how many cases’ in a particular place at a particular time, it’s really impossible to know with any certainty. These reports illustrate broader trends, across regions and age groups, from week to week and year to year.”

Parker said the Virginia Department of Health has a link to flu shot locations on their web site for residents to find the closest location giving vaccines in their health district.

The Centers for Disease Control said Virginia and West Virginia are among 31 states reporting widespread flu activity in recent weeks. Widespread flu activity is defined as outbreaks of influenza or increases in cases with flu-like symptoms and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza in at least half the health regions of a state.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com