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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

Flu hits hard in Southwest Virginia
Not too late to get vaccine
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Internet Photo: Influenza (the flu) is now widespread in Virginia and is expected to peak in February. Citizens are encouraged to obtain a flu shot from their primary care physician or pharmacy.

Friday, January 3, 2014

By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer

Influenza (the flu) is now "widespread" in Virginia, especially in the Southwest region, which includes Franklin County.

The flu is measured in four levels, with "widespread" being the highest level of activity, according to Robert Parker, public information officer for the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

The widespread status was reached in Virginia in December.

The influenza season has come early and hit hard, according to the Franklin County Health Department, as emergency departments continue to see large volumes of patients with influenza-like-symptoms or illnesses.

"Just in the last two weeks, we have had several confirmed cases of influenza A," said Ginny Crouch, infection preventionist at Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital (CFMH). "The state of Virginia is reporting an increase in confirmed cases, especially in the Southwest area of the state. We expect to see a peak in number of patients by February."

Though reports show a very high flu activity level, it is hard to calculate exactly how many cases there are because a lot of people do not go to the doctor and, if they do, not all patients are tested.

"Sometimes, what looks like the flu may not actually be the flu," Parker said. "Not all patients are tested, and not all cases are lab-confirmed."

The only way to tell if symptoms are the actual flu or some other bug or sickness is to be tested, said Crouch.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses infecting the nose, throat and lungs. Cases range from mild to severe, and sometimes the flu can be lethal, according to the state health department's website.

The flu is spread through contact with bodily discharges. People can get the flu when someone infected sneezes or coughs on them. They also can get it by touching something with the virus on it and then touching their mouths, noses or eyes.

The flu season generally runs from October to May, according to health officials.

Flu vaccinations available annually are designed to protect people from the three flu strains expected to be in heaviest circulation during a flu season. The flu vaccine is recommended by health officials for everyone over the age of 6 months.

Symptoms to watch for include fever, cough, sore throat, tiredness, chills, head and body aches, runny nose and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. However, people with such symptoms may not have influenza.

The flu can be an extremely dangerous disease, especially for certain age groups and people with the following chronic health conditions:

•Children younger than 5, but especially younger than 2 years old

•Adults 65 years of age and older

•Pregnant women

•People with chronic lung disease (such as asthma and COPD), diabetes (type 1 and 2), heart disease, neurologic conditions, blood disorders, immunosuppression and certain other long-term medical conditions, even if these conditions are well managed

•People who are morbidly obese

Other groups at increased risk of flu complications are listed at: www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm.

Precautions and preventive measures can be taken to avoid the spread of flu. The staff at CFMH recommends that residents of Franklin County:

•Get their flu vaccines, available at your primary care physician's office, most local retail pharmacies, and the local health department.

•Wash your hands often, especially if you know persons had the flu where you work or in your immediate family.

•If you have the flu, and need to cough/sneeze, cough or sneeze into your sleeve at your elbow, not into your hands.

•Stay home from work or school if sick with fever and respiratory symptoms, and if you must go out, wear a mask.

Hospital staff further recommends that:

•Visitors under the age of 18 should not visit the hospital.

•Patients with flu-like symptoms should be limited to one visitor at a time.

•Visitors to any patients who are isolated with flu will be required to wear masks as requested by hospital staff.

•People with flu and colds should not visit the hospital.

•People with flu do not need to go to the hospital emergency department unless they are having difficulty breathing or are dehydrated.

•Visitors be discouraged from visiting patients who have flu. If visitation is necessary, patients with flu should be limited to one visitor at a time. 

•If coming to the hospital for an outpatient test or procedure, follow the guidelines provided by the hospital and limit the number of people accompanying you to the hospital.

According to health officials, it is not too late to get a flu shot.

"Citizens can still go to their primary care physician or pharmacy and get a flu shot," said Crouch.

To find out more about the flu or to follow Virginia's flu activity, visit VDH's website at www.vdh.virginia.gov/flu.

 
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