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Flu cases seem to be leveling off statewide

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The flu season may not be getting any worse in West Virginia, but that doesn't mean it's getting better.

The number of cases has stayed relatively constant since Jan. 6 -- the last two weeks for which flu cases have been reported.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, thinks the number of flu cases in West Virginia has hit a plateau. That seems to be following national trends.  

"It went up really fast and now it's just sort of becoming stagnant," he said.

But the state still is in the midst of one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory. With widespread outbreaks in all but a few states, this season is the most severe since the 2009 pandemic.

An exact figure is hard to come by, but Gupta estimates Kanawha County doctors have been seeing hundreds of new flu cases each week. Statewide, more than 7,000 cases of influenza-like illness were reported last week.  

Even with the number of new cases leveling off, Gupta is preaching caution. Typically, he says, this is the point in the season when officials see more hospitalizations, complications and deaths.

"What tends to happen is that as the disease peaks, a lot of people get sick and they get hospitalized," Gupta said. "We understand that obviously as the influenza disease peaks, the deaths follow."

At least two adults in Kanawha County have died from influenza-related complications, but Gupta warns that number is probably much higher. Gupta said there have likely been "many more" deaths related to influenza in the county and the state.

After they ascertain that there have been deaths related to the flu, officials don't keep records of flu-related deaths in adults. (They can't do so efficiently because it's nearly always another disease brought on by the influenza that is fatal rather than the flu itself.)

Unlike many parts of the country, West Virginia has avoided a shortage of the flu vaccine, and it's not too late to get a shot even if you've already had the flu.

Getting sick from one strain of the virus won't do anything to ward off the others, Gupta said, so it's best to get the vaccine and be protected against all three strains in the virus.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report this week estimating that this season's version of the flu vaccine is effective in 62 percent of cases. That's in the mid-range of effectiveness. In most years the vaccine is been 40 percent and 80 percent effective.

"But even if you're part of the unlucky third of people who do get the vaccine and do get influenza, you are much less likely to get complications and be admitted to the hospital when you've had the vaccine," Gupta said.

And even if you're part of the small group of people who develop flu-related complications after getting the vaccine, the vaccine makes it much less likely that you will die from those complications.

"A very good proportion of people who are hospitalized or die did not have the flu shot," Gupta said.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department gives flu vaccines daily at 108 Lee St. East in Charleston. The vaccine is also still available at many drugstores and doctors' offices.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.


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