Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 11, 2012

Health officials urge vaccinations as reports of flu-like illnesses are on the rise

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Influenza is still lurking around southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, so health officials across the region are urging residents to get vaccinated against the disease.

In Mercer County and in neighboring Tazewell County, Va., 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, health care providers said.

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

The instances of sicknesses with flu-like symptoms continue to rise, but more people have been getting immunized. A recent article in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph about influenza prompted more residents to stop by the health department’s clinic at the St. Luke’s Professional Building in Bluefield for a shot. The number of people getting vaccinated has dropped recently, Bolton said.

“We got a pretty good-sized bump,” Bolton said Monday about attendance after the Telegraph’s article. “But this morning, we haven’t done as many vaccinations.”

Bolton said a vaccination does not give its recipient instant immunity from the flu.

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

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

“Viruses are flourishing now,” she said. “Part of the reason is our changing weather. One day it’s 30 degrees, the next day it’s 60 degrees.”

In some cases, the fluctuating warm and cold spells leave people wondering how they should dress for the day, making them more likely to become chilled or sweaty and increasing their chances of becoming sick.

Across the state line in Virginia, the state is seeing plenty of cases with flu-like illnesses. The state health department does not monitor exact numbers of cases because those are difficult to obtain, but trends are monitored, said Robert Parker, a spokesperson for the Virginia Health Department.

“We look at gross trends. Trends upwards and trends downward,” Parker said. “Overall, it’s been a typical flu seasons thus far.”

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

“Many people who feel sick for a couple of days and feel rotten just stay home,” he said.