by Kate Evans
Flu is very prevalent now in the region with cases of Influenza A with some Influenza B, said local health officials last week. Berkeley/Morgan County Nurse Director Angela Gray said that Morgan County is deemed as a community outbreak with flu since there are so many cases.
Gray and Dr. Gerald Bechamps, Vice-President of Medical Affairs for War Memorial Hospital and Hampshire Memorial Hospital, confirmed that the area is seeing mostly cases of Influenza A right now with some cases of Influenza B. The Influenza B strain caused a lot of flu cases earlier in the season.
Influenza symptoms are usually fever, cough or sore throat and can include headache, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, chills or body aches. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can also occur, especially in children.
Bechamps said last Friday that flu is rampant in the area. The influenza-like illness rate was 13.4% at War Memorial Hospital and 13.5% at Hampshire Memorial Hospital — the highest they’ve ever seen. Hampshire County Schools closed last Friday due to illness and inability to cover classes safely. According to reports, 170 kids and 9 teachers called off sick. They also sent students home early on Thursday, Bechamps said.
Valley Health Clinics at War Memorial Hospital, on Route 522 and in Hancock were overwhelmed by patients with flu-like symptoms, said Bechamps. There is also large absenteeism in schools.
Bechamps said that the flu started early in November and continued into December and then fell off.
“The last 10 days have been tremendous,” he said of the volume of flu cases in the region.
A nurse from Dr. Joseph Hashem’s Valley Health practice in Berkeley Springs said that they had started out seeing mostly Influenza B this season but now it’s mostly Influenza A. They’re also following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and watching for the new coronavirus.
School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle said at the February 4 school board meeting that Paw Paw Schools and Pleasant View Elementary were hit hard with the flu about mid-January, with Berkeley Springs High School and Warm Springs Middle School getting hit next. Currently Warm Springs Intermediate School and Widmyer Elementary have a lot of flu cases.
Morgan County Schools lead nurse Gina Mellott said on Monday that overall the schools are looking a little better with illness. However, they have new cases of flu and also cases of strep throat and upper respiratory illness.
Warm Springs Intermediate School still has more than 10% of the kids absent, Mellott said. Pleasant View Elementary is right on the line at 10%. Paw Paw Schools had fewer than 10% of students absent.
Berkeley Springs High School and Warm Springs Middle School illness cases have both improved and are under 10% of students absent. Staff-wise they’re doing okay with some staff out in the county. Mellott said they’re good as long as they have enough staff to maintain school safely.
Mellott said that flu shots are still being encouraged. She advised people to follow healthy habits — to stay home if they’re not feeling well, keep their kids home if they’re sick, cover coughs and sneezes and wash hands often.
Children and adults should remain home from work, school and extracurricular activities until 24 hours without fever or they’re symptom-free without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
Staying well tips
Dr. Bechamps also stressed that people should wash their hands with soap and water frequently between contacts to prevent illness and to stay home if they’re sick. Wear paper face masks if you are coughing or sneezing to protect co-workers, family members and the community from illness.
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available for hand-washing; cover coughs and sneezes; disinfect commonly used objects and surfaces; and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to prevent spreading germs.
Avoid others that are sick; get plenty of sleep, drink lots of liquids and get your flu and pneumonia shots if you haven’t received them yet.
Bechamps also advised getting Tamiflu from your doctor or healthcare provider if you get very sick from the flu.