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Flu deemed widespread in Virginia, CDC says

Roanoke Times - 12/26/2017

As the holiday season gets into full swing, so too does the flu season, and this year it could be nastier than usual.

As of Dec. 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 12 states were experiencing widespread influenza activity, including Virginia. This time last year, the flu was only reported at local levels in Virginia, according to the state's Department of Health.

The best way to protect against the flu, almost every health care provider will tell patients, is through the flu vaccine.

"Year to year, the vaccination helps reduce the instance of disease by 40 to 60 percent," said Dr. Scott Hickey, medical director of HCA Virginia's Chippenham Hospital Emergency Department.

But it's a gamble how effective each year's vaccine will be against the most dominant flu strain.

"Its like predicting the weather sometimes," Hickey said.

This year's vaccine protects against the H1N1 strain, but doesn't provide as much protection against the H3N2 virus. That's not good news, because H3N2 viruses have, so far, been predominant.

That means this year the flu season could be rough for more people. Hickey said that most of the people with the flu in Virginia have been able to be treated as outpatients.

Those most vulnerable to the flu are people of an extreme age, he said ' either very young or very old. The CDC reports that so far there have been eight influenza-related pediatric deaths this year.

Getting the vaccine is still a good idea, because it will protect against at least some strains individually, and offer some protection for the population at large. Hickey said that we often forget now how serious the flu can be and the importance of vaccines.

"We fail to appreciate the history of viral outbreaks from the 1800s and the 1900s, when tens of thousands of people were killed worldwide due to influenza," he said. "They'd get the flu, and they'd end up developing pneumonia, kidney failure, and people became profoundly, critically ill."

But with H3N2 raging this year, another common-sense tactic may prove just as worthwhile, if not more so.

"Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands," Hickey said. "And don't cover your mouth with your hands when you cough. Bury your face in your elbow."

It's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a full-fledged flu case and a bad cold. In a typical flu case, symptoms include total body aches, muscle aches, joint aches, runny nose, cough, sometimes vomiting and a fever of 102 or 103.

Sometimes people will have many of those symptoms and not the flu.

"We also have people who have a lot of these symptoms and don't have a fever and sometimes even they end up testing positive," Hickey said. "It's always advisable for patients to follow up with their primary care physicians to be evaluated."


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