Virginia Commonwealth University

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Flu Season Is Back with a Bang

February 3, 2011

By Larisa Robinson
Capital News Service

RICHMOND — As the weather warms slightly, cases of influenza in Virginia are increasing. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between Jan. 23 and Jan. 29, Virginia was one of 30 states where flu has been widespread.

Recently, flu cases have risen dramatically. Karen Remley, Virginia’s state health commissioner, said that since mid-January, there’s been a rise in the number of patients with flu-like symptoms and in the number of specimens testing positive for influenza.

Flu has claimed the lives of two Virginians. On Wednesday, Virginia health officials reported that two children died recently due to flu-related illnesses — one from Eastern Virginia, the other from Northern Virginia.

Virginia usually experiences two to three flu-related pediatric deaths per year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 19 such deaths have been reported since Jan. 29.

The state’s flu season normally begins in December, peaks in February and ends in March. Some say this year’s flu season has been typical, especially compared to recent years. By late 2009, the Virginia’s influenza-like illness rates were around 5 percent, and thousands of people had the flu. There were also at least 10 flu-related deaths.

Bobby Parker, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Health, said the country’s ability to find a vaccine for the H1N1 virus and include it in the 2011 standard flu vaccine could be why this year’s flu season has been so different from recent years.

Still, health officials advise getting a flu shot and taking precautions like covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, staying at home and washing your hands if you’re already ill.

People who are at high risk from complications and who may have the flu should see their doctor. They should also be treated with antiviral medicines if they develop the flu.

Common flu symptoms include fever, headache, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, fatigue and sometimes diarrhea.

To locate a pharmacy, physician or local health department clinic offering seasonal flu vaccine, log on to www.vdh.virginia.gov or contact your local health department.