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Flu peaks in W.Va.; CDC declares epidemic

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is seeing outbreaks of one strain of influenza two months ahead of normal flu season, according to state officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared a flu epidemic, as of Tuesday.

The number of people seeking medical care for flu-like symptoms at West Virginia medical facilities has risen from 1.7 percent to 6.4 percent, said Shannon McBee, an epidemiologist and the influenza coordinator for the West Virginia Bureau for Public health.

“Essentially, we’re seeing levels of flu activity that are similar to what we saw during the 2009 flu pandemic. This is the first week that West Virginia has reported widespread activity to the CDC,” McBee said. “The flu season has started about six to eight weeks earlier than we normally see in West Virginia — cases here don’t ordinarily peak until late January or early February, so we’re running a little earlier.”

McBee said instances of the flu strain A-H3N2 have risen across the Mountain State in the past week, with several outbreaks reported. She said that although the outbreaks had been appearing predominantly in the Northern part of the state and the Eastern Panhandle in recent weeks, Southern West Virginia and the Kanawha Valley have seen an increased number of cases of the flu in the past few weeks.

“It isn’t helping things,” McBee said, “because seasons that are predominated by H3N2 tend to produce harsher symptoms and higher mortality, especially in older people or younger children.”

The problems with the H3N2 strain are compounded by the fact that the virus seems to have become more resistant to the flu vaccination…

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