CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Flu season has arrived in West Virginia, where the state Department of Health and Human Resources has reported numerous cases in several regions.

Residents in the southern coalfields, the northern or eastern panhandles, as well as the mid-Ohio Valley, are at the center of the outbreak in West Virginia. This year’s strain of flu is no stranger to folks in the mountain state.

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It’s not too late to obtain the flu vaccine this year, because flu season stretches into mid-March.

“We are predominantly seeing the 2009 H1N1 strain. If you remember, this strain disproportionately affected young children and middle-aged adults,” said Shannon McBee an epidemiologist with the West Virginia Bureau for Health.

This time around, the vaccine has been available for months. Those who had a flu shot are covered, but holdouts need to get one promptly, McBee stressed.

“It is not too late to get your flu shot,” said McBee. “The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as a first and most important step in protecting against the flu virus.”

Not only can residents obtain the flu vaccine at their doctors’ offices, but health clinics and pharmacies are now offering the inoculation.

McBee said her office has seen a steep increase in the number of flu cases reported in the past two weeks. Some of that she attributed to the the fact this is prime flu season. Another contributing factor may be all the close contact we’ve had with family members over the holidays.

She stressed people sick with the flu should stay away from others.

“Avoid close contact with sick people. If you do get sick, make sure you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone,” explained McBee.

Another flu-busting tip that remains a constant: Wash hands thoroughly multiple times each day.

There’s one clear way to determine if a sick person has the flu or merely a bad cold?

“With a cold like Rhinovirus, you might get slightly congested, you might have a cough or a sore throat,” McBee said. “But the fever is a big indicator with influenza.”

Flu season can last well into mid-March.

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