2018-01-10 / News

Flu cases jump nationally; influenza-like illness is widespread in area

by Kate Evans

There has been a sharp rise in the number of states reporting seasonal influenza activity nationwide and area physicians and hospitals are also reporting a rise in flu and influenza-like illness cases. Health officials are still urging people who have not gotten their flu shot yet for this year to do so now.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) widespread influenza activity was reported in 46 states including West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and Ohio during the week ending December 30. Local influenza activity was reported in Washington D.C.

High influenza-like illness activity was experienced in New York City and 26 states including West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Ohio. Moderate influenza-like illness activity was reported in Pennsylvania and low influenza like illness activity was reported in the District of Columbia.

There have been a total of 13 pediatric deaths from influenza nationally so far this flu season and also some 3,937 lab-confirmed influenza associated hospitalizations since October 1, with an increase of almost 1,500 hospitalizations since last week.

Hospital

War Memorial Hospital Winchester Medical Center, Winchester Rehabilitation Center, Hampshire Memorial Hospital, and other Valley Health System facilities restricted visiting hours to four hours a day and changed visiting policies for the flu season beginning January 3 due to a steady increase in flu and influenza-like illness regionally.

Dr. Gerald Bechamps, Vice-President of Medical Affairs for War Memorial Hospital and Hampshire Memorial Hospital, said that the percentage of influenza-like illness was below concern at both hospitals during December, but there was an increase during the last two weeks.

Influenza-like illness percentages at War Memorial Hospital rose and Hampshire Memorial Hospital rose from the week ending December 30 to the week ending January 6 showing that it was now widespread, he said.

There have also been some positive cases of influenza, many of which occurred in those who didn’t receive vaccines and some that did. Bechamps said that this year’s vaccine isn’t totally effective. Australia has had a very serious flu epidemic with a lot of deaths and health officials are concerned about how the Northern Hemisphere’s flu season will compare to the Southern Hemisphere’s influenza season that has already ended, he noted.

Flu season doesn’t generally peak here until January, February and March, Bechamps said. Hospital officials have also been seeing some abdominal flu that is more a 24-hour and 48-hour illness unlike seasonal influenza that is acute for four to five days with residual effects that last for several weeks.

Bechamps encouraged those that haven’t received a flu vaccine to wear a mask. He also encouraged lots of frequent hand-washing and good health habits. Those with any symptoms of flulike illness are urged to stay home.

Locally

Medical assistant Lindy Morris from River Bend Family Medicine in Hancock said they had four positive cases of the flu last week and one confirmed flu case over the holidays. Their office is seeing stomach bugs, bronchitis, sinus infections and influenza like illness right now.

Morgan County Health Department Nurse Patty Caldwell said they’ve had one or two sporadic cases of the flu reported but are seeing a lot of cases of influenza-like illness, coughs and colds with no fever.

School illness

Morgan County Schools were closed last Friday and Monday and students were only at school two days since winter break. Child Nutrition and Wellness Director Kristie Randall said that head nurse Gina Mellott, who is based at Warm Springs Intermediate School and who oversees Pleasant View Elementary, Paw Paw Schools and Berkeley Springs High School, reported stomach virus, strep throat and influenza-like illness with only one confirmed case of flu.

Warm Springs Middle School-based nurse Carmela Emerson only saw one student with flu-like symptoms, but it wasn’t confirmed as flu.

Randall said that just prior to winter break Widmyer Elementary nurse Tammy Youngblood saw approximately 12 confirmed cases of strep throat, two cases of hand, foot and mouth disease and several cases of slap cheek, also called Fifth disease.

Flu symptoms, complications

Influenza symptoms usually are fever, cough or sore throat and can also include headache, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, chills or body aches. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can also occur, especially in children.

Influenza can cause serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections. Complications can require hospitalization and become life-threatening or fatal. Influenza can also worsen chronic medical conditions such as asthma or congestive heart disease.

Tips to prevent illness

Wash your hands with soap and water often to prevent flu and other illness. Use alcohol based hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available.

Stay home when sick, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or one’s sleeve and avoid touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth to prevent spreading germs.

Clean and disinfect commonly used objects and surfaces and limit one’s contact with others while sick.

Get plenty of sleep, drink lots of liquids and get your flu and pneumonia shots if you haven’t received them yet.

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