Though signs indicate winter may be coming to a close, flu season seems to be just starting up in the two Virginias.
In West Virginia, the level of flu-like illness has been declared “widespread” by the Center for Disease Control and the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health.
Melody Rickman, RN, administrator of the Mercer County Health Department, said the county has seen the amount of flu cases more than double in the past two weeks.
“There has been an increase,” Rickman said. “As of last Friday, we had 313 cases reported while the week before, we only had 103 cases of flu-like illness that had been reported. Those numbers are for Mercer County alone.”
However, Rickman said Mercer County itself is still at a “sporadic” level of flu reports and is on target for what they had predicted this year.
“We can see outbreaks through March and reports of flu-like symptoms into May,” Rickman said. “So far, we are about where we expected to be this year.”
Rickman said she anticipates more reports of flu-like illness before the spring is over.
“January and February are usually the worst two months for the flu, but since everyone has been inside, the worst months may be February and March this year,” she said.
According to Rickman, warmer weather may facilitate the flu’s spread.
“It’s warming up, people are getting out more, and the kids are in school more,” Rickman said. “The more people are out and about with each other, the easier it is to spread. The more people are together, the more communicable the disease is.”
Rickman said the best defense against the flu is immunization.
“People need to remember it takes a week-and-a-half to two weeks to build up their immunity, so they need to get their flu shot as soon as possible,” she said.
Rick Ball, director of student services for Mercer County Schools, said the school system has seen a few isolated cases of flu-like symptoms and other illnesses in the past week.
“We had a few cases in one school, but it was a mix of flu-like symptoms and a stomach virus going around,” Ball said. “We talked about it with the county and sent home notices to parents. Some of them went home Friday and some will be going home Tuesday about this.”
Though there aren’t many cases being reported, Ball said the school system continues to monitor illness.
“We are monitoring flu and illness numbers in school and will continue to monitor and track them daily at each school,” he said. “At this point, we haven’t had any data to support any abnormality, but that can change easily.”
Ball said Mercer County Schools have no immediate plans to promote in-school immunization, like they did with last year’s H1N1 outbreak.
According to Ball, snow days have also prevented some flu spread.
“Two weeks ago was the first full week of school we’ve had since December without any snow days,” Ball said. “We were out last Thursday as well and the schools were out Monday for an INS or in-service day. We’ve been fortunate so far, but we’ve got the issue of the weather to thank for that. While there has been news of flu spread, we don’t have any reports within the schools.”
In Virginia, the level of flu diagnoses has been set at “widespread” for around two weeks and numbers continue to climb.
Dr. John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, director of the Cumberland Plateau Health District, said Virginia is also seeing an increase in flu-like symptoms as well as more severe cases of the disease.
“Our levels of flu continue to be widespread,” Dreyzehner said. “We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of diagnoses and the number of hospitalizations.”
According to Dreyzehner, the region seems to be at its peak of flu activity, though he said the health district will not be sure until final numbers come out at the end of flu season.
“We hit the widespread level two weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean flu activity cannot increase,” Dreyzehner said. “In fact, flu activity continues to increase.”
Dreyzehner said time may be running out for those who haven’t been immunized against the flu.
“If you haven’t gotten your flu shot, this is the time to get it,” he said. “Time is running out and people need to be immunized before it’s too late.”
Sandy VanDyke, a nurse practitioner and the school health coordinator for Tazewell County Schools, said the school system hasn’t seen much absenteeism in recent weeks.
“We’ve been steady on our numbers so far,” VanDyke said. “We do the usual things to prevent flu from spreading such as encourage hand washing, monitoring students who may be sick, and advising parents to keep their students home if they do develop an illness.”
According to VanDyke, the Tazewell County School system is involved with an in-school vaccination program in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health.
“Many of our students received their flu shot in the fall through the program,” VanDyke said. “It helps tremendously. Tazewell County was one of the first school systems to participate in the program and we’ve been doing so for about four or five years now.”
VanDyke said the school system will continue to monitor flu-like symptoms at county schools as flu season continues.
As of Feb. 8, the Virginia Department of Health had confirmed two pediatric flu-associated deaths statewide with 19 flu-related pediatric deaths reported to the CDC nationwide.http://bdtonline.com/local/x1248736860/ ... -Virginias