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Influenza activity ‘widespread’

WHEELING — Influenza is widespread now in the local area and throughout West Virginia.

Howard Gamble, administrator of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department, said this is the highest level of influenza activity, according to health classification.

All areas of the Mountain State are seeing elevated rates of health care visits for influenza-like illnesses, he added.

“Laboratory detections of influenza has doubled once again, with Influenza Type B detections remaining predominant,” he said. “Across West Virginia, we have seen 14 respiratory outbreaks and no pediatric deaths.”

Those statistics, the most recent available, were for the week ending Dec. 28.

“Only influenza-associated deaths in those less than 18 years old are reportable to the state,” said Jessica Holstein, DHHR assistant director of communications. “The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Public Health has had no such deaths reported so far in the 2019-2020 season.”

Public health officials still recommend influenza vaccination for all persons, age 6 months and older, without contraindications.

Asked if this season’s flu shot is effective, Holstein said, “As far as the seasonal vaccine, it should first be emphasized that getting an annual flu vaccination has several other benefits beyond preventing flu, which include lessening the severity of an influenza illness, reducing the risk of flu-associated hospitalization, reducing the risk of flu-associated death in children, and protecting those around you who are at higher risk of serious flu complications.”

She added, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will publish a preliminary estimate of the 2019-2020 vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing illness sometime next month. The CDC also collects isolated influenza viruses from across the country and compares these viruses to the strains that were part of the 2019-2020 vaccine, but they report having limited amounts of data at this point.”

Gamble said the health department asked officials of local schools (K-12) and institutions of higher education to be alert for influenza outbreaks in school settings.

“Schools are asked to track absenteeism daily to see if there are above normal levels,” he said. “Any outbreaks or potential outbreaks of flu or influenza-like illnesses need to be reported immediately to the health department.”

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