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Flu cases on rise in Kanawha County, W.Va.

By Staff, wire reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More people in Kanawha County are getting the flu, a trend that will likely continue, health officials say.

"We've seen a big jump in lab-confirmed cases of flu over the last several weeks and there is no indication that it is slowing down," Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director and health officer of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said Wednesday in a prepared statement. 

The confirmed cases, Gupta said, "only represent the tip of the iceberg of the total public health burden.

"Many ill people don't seek treatment or are diagnosed with influenza-like illness, which does not always require testing," he said.

More than 10,000 flu cases were confirmed in West Virginia as of mid-December, the highest total for the period in at least five years, state figures show.

West Virginia is among 31 states reporting widespread flu activity, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

As of Dec. 18, there were 10,676 confirmed cases, according to Department of Health and Human Resources data. In all of December, there were 6,658 cases in 2011, 6,245 cases in 2010, 8,961 in 2009, 6,271 in 2008 and 7,217 in 2007.

"Every week there's been significant jumps in the number of confirmed positives. We've seen steady increases in confirmed cases from across the county and across the state for five consecutive weeks,'' Brandon Merritt, regional epidemiologist with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said.

Getting a flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the illness, but health officials say time is running out to get a vaccine because it takes up to two weeks to develop immunity after getting the vaccine.

Children younger than 5, pregnant women, those older than 65 and people with conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart and lung disease are at greater risk of complications from the flu, according to the release from the KCHD. For those at greater risk of complications, the flu vaccine is even more important, according to the KCHD. It's also important for the caretakers of those with increased risk of complications to get a vaccine, health officials said.

"Sometimes I hear people say, 'Oh, it's just the flu,' but if you could prevent yourself or a loved one from being ill in bed for a week and possibly suffer severe complications, wouldn't you want to do that?" Gupta said.

Central West Virginia had the highest number of confirmed cases, 2,945, while north-central West Virginia had the lowest number, 943. There were 1,659 cases in Southern West Virginia, 1,553 in the Mid-Ohio Valley, 1,520 in eastern West Virginia, 1,177 in western West Virginia and 1,155 in Northern West Virginia. The state's regional breakdown also includes Kanawha County, which had 619 cases.

No cases were reported in Pleasants, Berkeley, Randolph, Pendleton and McDowell counties. More than 1,000 cases were reported in both Summers and Webster counties.

Flu seasons usually peak at the end of January or in early February but this year's season might peak early, Merritt said.

"It's hard to say, we're still trending upwards. It's hard to say when we're going to trend back down,'' Merritt said.

Most of West Virginia's cases are influenza AH3, which is included in this year's flu vaccine, Merritt said.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department offers flu vaccinations daily without appointment from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, call 304-344-5243 or visit www.kchdwv.org.


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