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W.Va. no exception to flu outbreak battering US

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This flu season is shaping up to be the worst in years, and it's not over yet.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is classifying the flu outbreak in West Virginia as "widespread," and this state is no anomaly.

This flu season has been rough throughout the country. Deaths have been reported in several states, including Pennsylvania and Indiana.

In West Virginia, a flu outbreak forced officials to close Pocahontas County schools for two days in December. At Thomas Memorial Hospital alone there have been 56 confirmed cases since Nov. 21. St. Francis Hospital has seen another 40.

Even as early as Dec. 18 - when the most recent available data were compiled - West Virginia had 10,676 cases of the flu. That's more than in all of December 2011 (6,658 cases) or December 2010 (6,245 cases).

"It's here and it's hitting hard," said Alan Humphrey, a physician assistant at MedExpress in Charleston.

It seems more prominent than it has since 2009, he said, though the symptoms are roughly the same in every case, year after year.

"That sense of getting run over by a tractor trailer? That's still there," he said.

MedExpress has been seeing an influx of patients with flu-like symptoms for months - as early as September.

That's an early start for flu season. And according to the CDC, flu activity across the country hasn't peaked yet, leading officials to believe this season will probably more closely resemble the severe flu season of 2009 than any of the mild seasons in the years since.

It's a serious illness, especially for people in certain groups, like children under 5, adults older than 65 and pregnant women. People with a slew of other conditions, like asthma, diabetes or heart disease, are also especially at risk of developing serious complications.

People in those groups especially, but also the general population, are encouraged to get vaccinated for influenza.

The flu vaccine is very effective, and it's not too late to get it. Officials with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department say there are still adequate supplies of the flu vaccine available, and they're urging the public to take advantage of that.

The vaccine is inexpensive (usually between $5 and $30) and available at most health clinics, drugstores and primary health care providers. Without the vaccine the flu can be tough to ward off. As a contagious respiratory illness, it's easy to catch.

"It's a people-to-people thing," Humphrey said. "It's like a personal space bubble - everybody has their bubble, but a flu's bubble can be 6 feet wide."

Adults are contagious one day before symptoms emerge and a week afterward. For kids it's even longer: they're contagious four days before they even know they're sick and for more than a week after symptoms emerge.

"Yeah, kids are like petri dishes, Humphrey said. "They breed it all."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.



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