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Flu activity ‘minimal’ so far this season

November 22, 2018

CHARLESTON - Nearly two months into the 2018-19 flu season, a state health official said activity for the illness so far has been “minimal.”

“Both the percentage of influenza-like illness seen in patients and the number of positive influenza tests have been low,” said Lauren Spadafora, flu coordinator at the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

One way the state tracks flu activity is by the percentage of patients at various health care providers throughout the state who have flu-like symptoms. Those symptoms include a high fever accompanied with a sore throat or cough.

Spadafora said that percentage has been below 2 percent so far.

“That’s in the low region,” she said. “I’d say we’re not in the peak season yet based on what the data is looking like.”

The state Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services publishes data about flu cases on its website, https://oeps.wv.gov.

Peak flu season varies from year to year, though it’s usually in the winter, Spadafora said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s no way to predict how severe a flu season will be.

“So it’s important that everyone who’s eligible get their flu vaccination,” she said.

Last year, two West Virginians 17 or younger died from the flu. The state tracks pediatric deaths but not those of older patients, she said.

“We’ve not had any (pediatric deaths) yet this season,” she said. “And it was noted that (last) season was one of the worst as far as pediatric deaths go nationwide.”

The CDC recommends yearly flu vaccines for everyone over 6 months of age. While a nasal spray option hasn’t been recommended for the previous two flu seasons, the CDC is recommending it as an option this year, along with an injection.

“They don’t have a preference for the nasal spray over any other vaccine,” she said.

Besides getting a flu vaccine, the CDC recommends prevention measures like staying home when you’re sick, avoiding close contact with sick people, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, washing your hands and taking anti-viral medicines if your doctor prescribes them.

While flu activity so far has been low, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and Putnam County Health Department recommend that people especially take preventive measures before and during the holidays.

KCHD spokesman John Law said that’s because many people will be traveling, which could expose them to different strains of the flu.

“If you live in Charleston or in West Virginia, you may get a little bit of a herd immunity (here) because you’re around the same people a lot,” Law said. “You may not be as likely to get it. But if you’re traveling, you may be exposed to a different strain of it if you’re around different people.”

Flu vaccines take about two weeks to become effective, and health officials advise getting one every year because they vary depending on what strains of the virus are circulating.

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department recommends the flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age. According to county health officials, the vaccine should be plentiful this year, with no shortages.

Flu shots are available at the health department, 703 7th Ave. in Huntington, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Those who have internet access can print and complete the registration form in advance at www.cabellhealth.org.

Vaccines are also available at area pharmacies and other health care providers.

Call the health department’s flu information hotline at 304-526-3397 for more information.

The Herald-Dispatch contributed to this story.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1240 or follow @LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

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