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Flu cases moderate in Cabell

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Health officials said Thursday they're seeing a moderate rise in flu cases locally, but not an alarming outbreak of widespread influenza as has been reported in West Virginia and 40 other states.

From Oct. 1 through the end of 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 22,048 flu cases and 2,257 flu-associated hospitalizations. In the same period in 2011, only 849 flu cases had been reported nationwide. More than 70 deaths nationwide -- primarily in the Midwest -- have been attributed to this flu season.

West Virginia is reporting only moderate levels of flu-like illness, according to a press release issued this week by the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

Dr. Harry Tweel, director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, said he believes the Tri-State is likely seeing the peak of its first flu season and the number of cases will begin to decline soon. A second flu season, he said, typically runs from late February through April.

"The reports we're hearing from our partners is that they're seeing a lot of flu cases, some a little more severe than an average year, but overall the flu is not any worse here than it has been in other years," Tweel said. "The flu is a little more virulent this year than some years, but it's typical of what we've seen from time to time."

The Associated Press reported that schools in Martin County, Ky., would remain closed for a second day Friday due to a flu outbreak, but local schools appear to have braved the flu season mostly unscathed.

Jedd Flowers, director of communications for Cabell County Public Schools, said local schools have been fortunate so far, and attendance figures are "pretty much normal" for this time of year.

Emergency departments at both St. Mary's Medical Center and Cabell Huntington Hospital reported increases in patients presenting with flu symptoms.

"So far we haven't seen what's being reported nationally with the rapid spread of influenza," said Libby Bosley, vice president of patient care at St. Mary's. "Of the flu patients who've been treated in our ER, a majority have been treated and released. We have admitted a few."

Bunny Smith, vice president and chief nursing officer at Cabell Huntington Hospital, said simple flu prevention techniques can halt the spread of the virus.

"Everyone should be practicing simple prevention techniques such as thorough hand-washing, avoiding close contact, and covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to help prevent the spread of germs," Smith said.

In other parts of the country, the early onslaught of the flu has resulted in a spike in hospitalizations. To deal with the influx and protect other patients from getting sick, hospitals are restricting visits from children, requiring family members to wear masks and banning anyone with flu symptoms from maternity wards, according to the AP.

One hospital in Allentown, Pa., set up a tent this week for a steady stream of patients with flu symptoms. But so far "what we're seeing is a typical flu season," said Terry Burger, director of infection control and prevention for the hospital, Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest.

On Wednesday, Boston declared a public health emergency, with the city's hospitals counting about 1,500 emergency room visits since December by people with flu-like symptoms.

All the flu activity has led some to question whether this year's flu shot is working. While health officials are still analyzing the vaccine, early indications are that it's about 60 percent effective, which is in line with what's been seen in other years.

The vaccine is reformulated each year, based on experts' best guess of which strains of the virus will predominate. This year's vaccine is well-matched to what's going around. The government estimates that between a third and half of Americans have gotten the vaccine.

On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC.

Tweel said many illnesses this time of year are mistaken for the flu, and he encouraged those who are really sick with flu symptoms, including fever, dry cough, sore throat, muscle aches and general fatigue, to avoid contact with others.

"It's important that we not share this virus around. If you're really sick with the flu -- muscle aches, coughing, fever -- stay home. Don't go out," Tweel said. "And I can't stress hand-washing enough."

Tweel also emphasized the importance and effectiveness of getting a flu vaccination. Influenza vaccination clinics are still available at the health department every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. or 1 to 3 p.m. Vaccines are recommended for anyone older than six months, particularly seniors and those who are pregnant. According to the CDC, more than 112 million Americans had received a vaccination by the end of November.

"I'm hearing rumors that the current vaccine does not include this flu strain, but it does," Tweel said. "It's definitely not too late to get vaccinated. I'd remind people that they probably won't have much immunity for at least 14 to 28 days after receiving it, but it's worth getting for the second flu go-round that hasn't even started yet."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.



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