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Sluggish flu season nothing to sneeze at

This year’s flu season has reportedly gotten off to a sluggish start nationwide, and Virginia has reported low flu-like activity so far.

But area medical officials are urging people to get vaccinated against the flu now before it reaches its peak season.

In the fall, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and local physicians recommended families receive the 2013 influenza vaccine early while predicting this year’s flu season could strike as early as October. 

Since Oct. 1, a total of 815 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported nationwide. 

Among the cases, 744 were influenza A, 61 were influenza B, six were influenza A and B co-infection, and four had no virus type information. 

Among those with influenza A subtype information, seven were H3, and 297 were 2009 H1N1. 

While some states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana have experienced high influenza-like illness activity, since Dec. 14, the CDC reported Virginia has had relatively low influenza-like illness activity.  

New York, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada and Utah also reported having low influenza-like activity. 

Even though many infected persons have been reported to the CDC, Tammy Saunders, a pediatrics LPN at Fuller-Roberts Clinic said Friday infected
persons there have been “far and few between,” while other patients have been experiencing cough and cold symptoms. 

“Up to this point, you could probably say that the number of patients with the flu have been less than last year. However, maybe we just haven’t hit the flu season yet,” said Saunders, noting sometimes it doesn’t hit until later on in the year. 

To help prevent spreading the illness, anyone who comes into the Fuller Roberts Clinic is requested to wear a mask for the entire time of his or her visit. 

 “Also, as always, we are promoting the flu vaccine for anyone 6 months and older,” said Saunders. 

Halifax Regional Hospital is taking extra measures as they experience patients with flu-like behavior. 

According to Millie Lavaway, infection prevention and control practitioner at Halifax Regional Hospital, signage is always posted asking visitors not to visit if they feel ill, and the hospital provides masks for those in their waiting rooms and ER who may be coming in to be seen for flu-like symptoms. 

Halifax Regional Hospital staff also has taken precautions administering in excess of 520 flu shots this season to their hospital employees. 

Out of the strands of flu reported so far, Dr. Michael Young, a medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza division, said, “That may change, but right now most of the flu is H1N1. It’s the same H1N1 we have been seeing the past couple of years and that we really started to see in 2009 during the pandemic.” 

Young noted that H1N1 flu is different from other types of flu because it tends to strike younger adults harder than older adults. Flu is typically a bigger threat to people 65 and older and very young children and people with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, he said. 

“This year, because it’s an H1N1 season so far, we are seeing more infections in younger adults,” Young said. “And some of these folks have underlying conditions that put them at risk for hospitalization or death. This may be surprising to some folks, because they forget the population that H1N1 hits.”

The good news, Young said, is that this year’s flu vaccine protects against the H1N1 flu. 

“For people who aren’t vaccinated yet, there’s still time -- they should go out and get their vaccine,” he advised.

The most commonly reported underlying medical conditions among adults were obesity, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease and chronic lung disease (excluding asthma). 

The most commonly reported underlying medical conditions in children were obesity, asthma, cardiovascular disease and neurological disorders. 

Approximately 51.4 percent of hospitalized children had no identified underlying medical conditions. 

For those who would like to receive the flu vaccine, it is available at Halifax Regional Hospital, Fuller Roberts Clinic, the Health Department, Walgreen’s, CVS, Halifax Pharmacy and Halifax Prime Care. 

Besides vaccination, Young recommends frequent hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough as ways to help prevent getting or spreading the flu. Also, stay at home if sick and keep children with the flu out of school, he said.

“The season hasn’t peaked yet. There is still going to be a lot of flu activity. Vaccine takes two weeks to really kick in, so the sooner people get their vaccine the better,” Young said.

The number of Americans who get vaccinated against the flu hovers around 40 percent to 45 percent, Young said.  

“That’s short of what we would like to see, which is 70 percent. That’s our ‘Healthy People 2020’ goal. We are not there yet.”