Flu season in full swing in the Mid-Ohio Valley

PARKERSBURG – The flu. The acronym term for the common man’s winter diagnosis of “F.eeling L.ousy. U.ggh.”

The influenza, as explained by Dr. David Hefner, area medical director for MedExpress, is “a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.

“Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose,” he said.

Symptoms are often similar to the common cold. These being cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, headache, fatigue and potentially vomiting and diarrhea, according to Hefner and Jennifer Offenberger, associate vice president of marketing and service excellence at the Memorial Health System.

Other symptoms of the flu include malaise, gastro-intenstinal symptoms, fever, chest discomfort, extreme exhaustion, weakness and severe body aches. Most people will recover within one to two weeks, according to Offenberger.

Tyger Kirk, regional epidemiologist with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, said the department gave approximately 3,000 inoculations from September through December. He said the Type A flu is what is prominant with the H3N2 strain the most dominant.

“The flu vaccine is usually designed on what has been seen in the Far East,” he said. “It’s where a lot of flu strains seem to begin. Primarily, what is seen there is what is eventually seen here.”

“We had an initial spike for the flu season, which ended Dec. 16,” said Deborah Life, the infection preventionist at WVU Medicine/Camden Clark Medical Center.

“That is at least eight weeks earlier than the usual spike based on statistics from the previous two years. But what we don’t know is whether the spike represents the peak or if the flu will actually lessen or worsen in the coming weeks.”

Life said the flu season extends from September-April.

“People infected with the flu may be able to infect others beginning day one before symptoms develop and up to 5-to-7 days after becoming sick,” she said. “That means you are able to spread the flu to someone else before you know you are sick as well as while you are sick.”

Life said the medical center implemented visitor restrictions on Dec. 18 “due to the number of positive flu tests and the number of inpatients with the flu. We had gone from three positive flu results the previous week to 28 positives for the week ending the 16th.

“That calculated to 17.8 percent of the specimens we tested being positive,” she said. “The increased flu activity persisted with the following week, which ended Dec. 23, and that percentage rose to 25.9 percent for those tested being positive. The week ending Dec. 30, we had 72 positive tests, or 23.5 percent of those tested being positive.”

From Dec. 31 through Jan. 5, Life said, the medical center had 54 positives, or 22.2 percent, from the flu testing.

Offenberger said the Memorial Health System also had to put restrictions on visitors. “Nobody under the age of 18, restricting patient visitors to two at a time, and asking all those that may have flu symptoms to not visit,” Offenberger said. “This is only for hospital patient visits.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the strain H3N2 is responsible for the majority of the deadliest cases reported this season, and the vaccine is not as effective as in the past due to the strain.” Life added “the last three seasons the flu strains have been different.”

Hefner said the frigid weather the area experienced did little to lessen the flu outbreak.

“While the peak of flu season occurs during the wintertime, it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the weather,” he said. “The timing of flu season is more likely due to the fact flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness that easily spreads from person-to-person – especially during wintertime when friends and family spend a lot of time together indoors. Tiny droplets from coughing and sneezing – and even talking – can spread to others as far as 6 feet away.

“Since droplets from coughs and sneezes can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours, it’s also important to remember proper cough etiquette. Blow your nose and cough into a tissue – and if a tissue isn’t available, cough and sneeze into your upper arm or sleeve. Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, and blowing your nose, and turn away from people when you’re coughing or sneezing,” he said.

“Experts at the New England Journal of Medicine also suggest the higher instances of flu may be related to the low effectiveness of this year’s vaccine. Recent research predicts the current vaccine is only 10 percent effective against this year’s flu strain, H3N2,” said Hefner. “We certainly still recommend people get vaccinated, however, because getting a flu vaccine can still decrease the severity of the illness and helps protect against other strains of the flu.

“This strain does tend to make for a more severe disease, particularly among older people and people with underlying illness,” he said. “That’s why it’s especially important for seniors, pregnant women, children and individuals with asthma, diabetes and lung disease to get their flu shot as they are at increased risk for complications from influenza. People who have not gotten their annual flu shot and come down with the flu will likely have more severe flu symptoms, have a higher likelihood of serious complications and hospitalization and may be sick for a longer period of time compared with people who have been vaccinated.”

Hefner said it is not too late to receive a flu shot. ” It’s never too late to get your flu shot, but it is best to get it as soon as possible, as it takes about two weeks after a flu shot for the body’s immune system to fully protect against the virus,” he said. “Getting a flu shot can lessen the severity of symptoms if you do get the flu, as well as help protect friends, family and coworkers.”

People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Go to www.cdc.gov:

What are the emergency warning signs of flu sickness?

In children

≤ Fast breathing or trouble breathing

≤ Bluish skin color

≤ Not drinking enough fluids

≤ Not waking up or not interacting

≤ Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

≤ Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

≤ Fever with a rash

In adults

≤ Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

≤ Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

≤ Sudden dizziness

≤ Confusion

≤ Severe or persistent vomiting

≤ Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

≤ Being unable to eat

≤ Has trouble breathing

≤ Has no tears when crying

≤ Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal