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West Virginia seeing rise in flu-like illnesses

ELKINS, W.Va. — The yearly flu season is underway and West Virginia is seeing evidence of influenza and influenza-like illness in areas across the state, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

While the flu season has already started, health officials say it’s not too late to get a flu shot. Misti Shine, RN, an Infection Preventionist at Davis Medical Center, said.

“You want to get it because of those immunocompromised people you may be around,” she said.

Shine pointed out the most prevalent flu virus detected this year has mutated, or drifted, from what is in the current vaccine, but getting the vaccine is still beneficial.

“You could still get coverage from that vaccine even though it is not an exact match. The likelihood of you getting a serious illness is still much smaller,” Shine said.

While Shine recommends everyone get vaccinated who can, she said it is especially important for some high-risk groups.

“High risk groups are those who are immunocompromised people out there,” she said. “Those who have cancer, those who have HIV, your diabetes patients who are just prevalent to get anything coming and going. Anyone with predisposed respiratory conditions like asthma, or COD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), those are people who really need to seek out and get the vaccine,” Shine said.

While getting the flu vaccine was at the top of her list, Shine has other things people can do to prevent or lessen their chances of catching the flu this year.

“Good hand hygiene is really crucial at this time of year because high-touch surfaces are really contaminated and you want to make sure you wash your hands very well,” she said. “Use soap and water obviously when they are soiled.”

Shine also recommends the use of an alcohol-based gel hand sanitizer. She said she carries some in her purse and uses it all the time.

“You also want to use good respiratory etiquette so that you’re not spreading the love,” Shine said.

“If you’re sick or feel like you’re getting the flu or getting ill, then of course you want to stay at home and not spread that as well,” she said.

According to the CDC, the flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu will feel some or all of these symptoms:

– Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone with the flu will have a fever)

– Cough

– Sore throat

– Runny or stuffy nose

– Muscle or body aches

– Headaches

– Fatigue (tiredness)

– Some people, particularly children, may have vomiting and diarrhea.

Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death.

Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections are examples of complications from flu. The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

If you start feeling symptoms, there are treatments available. Tamiflu and Relenza are prescription medications, called “antiviral drugs,” that can be used to treat influenza illness. Antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by one or two days. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. For people with a high-risk medical condition, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having milder illness instead of very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

According to the CDC, antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within 2 days of getting sick. However, starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high risk health condition or is very sick from the flu.

While antiviral drug treatment can lessen the severity of the symptoms of the flu, antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat the flu if you get sick. A flu vaccine is still the first and best way to prevent influenza, officials said.

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