Flu season arrives in Virginia

Flu season is here, seven weeks earlier this year than in 2016. According to Daniel Ferrell, the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District epidemiologist for the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia is currently seeing widespread levels of influenza. The health department defines “widespread” as outbreaks of influenza or increases in influenza-like illnesses and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza occurring in at least half the regions of the state.

From data collected by the health department, influenza type A H3N2 is the predominant strain identified so far this season (throughout the region, state and country). In the past, influenza A H3N2-predominant seasons have been associated with more severe illness, especially in young children and persons 65 and older.

The vaccine developed for this flu season does include the H3N2 strain.

There have been outbreaks of flu in two facilities in Culpeper and Orange counties, and it is a possibility that outbreaks may present in local long-term care or assisted-living facilities in Fauquier County, as well as in the hospital. Outbreaks can be life-threatening to the young (infants and children) as well as to the elderly.

There are steps you can take to minimize the risk to you and your family:

  • Get vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is not too late to get vaccinated for this flu season.
  • Be mindful of your own health. If you have a fever higher than 100.5 or have two or more flu-like symptoms (cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, chills muscle aches, headache), stay away from other people as much as possible and don’t visit friends or family in long term care, assisted living or the hospital.
  •  If you absolutely have to see a loved one or friend in one of these types of facilities and have the symptoms above, please cover your nose and mouth with a mask and use hand sanitizer to clean your hands before and after touching anything or anyone in the facility or room.
  • If you work with sick people or children and have any of the above symptoms, it is better to stay home than put others at risk.
  • Practice good respiratory hygiene. If you have a runny nose or are sneezing, use tissue paper and throw away after each use. Sanitize your hands afterward.
  • Practice cough etiquette. Cough into a tissue, or into the crook of your arm, rather than your hand.
  • Avoiding touching your face, especially your nose or mouth with your hands after visiting a public place, or even in your own home, if someone else in the home has been sick.
  • Regularly disinfect surfaces in your home. Wipes or sprays containing bleach are excellent for killing most of the germs that can cause illness at this time of year. Be sure to read the instructions on the bottle and keep the surfaces you are disinfecting wet for the amount of time specified on the product.

There are helpful links on both the Virginia Department of Health, and the Center for Disease Control Website regarding this year’s flu season. For information on the 2016-2017 flu season and how you can protect yourself and prevent the spread of flu visit vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/influenza-flu-in-virginia. For a good map of the country and flu activity:cdc.gov/flu/weekly/usmap.htm. For a graph on flu activity specifically in Virginia: vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/3/2016/01/VDH-Weekly-Influenza-Report.pdf.

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