The Times West Virginian

January 20, 2013

Flu vaccine isn’t complete safeguard, but it’s best weapon we have against virus

Times West Virginian

— It’s never too late to get a flu shot. And this influenza season is probably getting that message across more than any health professional ever could.

Flu seasons are difficult to analyze until they are over, but there are a few things that doctors and scientists have determined so far. The season began about a month early — what normally hits in the middle of January arrived in mid December. Forty-eight states have reported widespread influenza activity, though it’s starting to wane in some areas.

In West Virginia for the past five weeks in a row, the number of confirmed flu cases is higher than the baseline established. If you look at the last decade of flu seasons, there are usually about 12 weeks when cases are higher than the baseline.

So if that holds true again this year, there could be up to two more months of flu activity.

There’s nothing truly remarkable about this flu season in West Virginia — unlike larger metropolitan areas — other than it hit earlier. But what is remarkable is that 97 percent of reported cases are, in fact, one of the three strains the flu vaccine immunizes against. And while the flu vaccine isn’t a complete safeguard, it is the best weapon we have against the virus.

And we encourage people to attend clinics offered through the Marion County Health Department or pharmacies, or ask your health-care provider where to get a dose. It is far easier to take a few minutes to stop and get a flu shot than to spend a few days in bed with the flu and a few more weeks recovering from the effects.

Also during this season, we encourage people to practice a little common sense. Wash your hands regularly, and when you’ve come in contact with high-traffic public areas. If you feel ill, seek the advice of your doctor. If you test positive for the flu, within 48 hours you can take anti-viral medication that can lessen the severity and duration of symptoms. Also, it’s a good idea to keep ill children home instead of sending them to school, daycare, activities or out in public, as well as yourself.

And since the flu hits the elderly hardest, please keep in contact with relatives, friends and neighbors who may be under the weather to make sure they don’t need advanced medical care.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control say that next year’s batch of flu vaccine will be larger and be based on the current flu season. Anti-viral medicine, like Tamiflu, will also be produced in greater volume.

But while we’re still enduring the 2013 flu season, remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Stay healthy, Marion County.