CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Flu season is expected to continue for the next several weeks in West Virginia, but Shannon McBee, an epidemiologist with the state Bureau of Public Health, said all signs indicate the flu has already peaked for the year.
“It looks like we’re in the home stretch as far as flu season is concerned,” McBee told MetroNews. The flu numbers will not be finalized until the end of the season.
At this point, McBee said the length of the flu season looks like it’s been average compared with other years. However, “There is early indication that this year has been a more severe flu season,” she said.
She said this year brought the first two pediatric flu deaths in West Virginia since the pandemic and there were more hospitalizations, for people of all ages, tied to the flu.
The pandemic happened in 2009 when H1N1 hit hard nationally and in the Mountain State. That same H1N1 strain has been dominant this year and is being blamed for the severity of the flu, since last fall, for young people, the middle-aged, pregnant women and people who are obese.
McBee said there are many reasons why the flu is hitting younger people so much harder.
“One is, unfortunately, younger adults or those who are otherwise healthy are less likely to be vaccinated,” she said. “The data also suggests that older individuals may have a higher existing immunity to the virus than our younger population.”
A virus similar to H1N1 was last seen in the 1950s, meaning people born after that have largely not been exposed to it and have no immunity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, adults of working age accounted for 61 percent of the influenza hospitalizations nationally since last fall. Last flu season, the flu rate was 35 percent for the same age group.
The CDC estimated the chance of getting the flu did drop by about 60 percent for those who were vaccinated in late 2013 or early 2014.
Though the number of flu cases in West Virginia is on the decline, McBee said residents should continue to take precautions to protect themselves from the flu.
“You can still get flu even in the middle of summer actually,” she said.
“But, for the bulk of our season, we are winding down all across the state and activity should continue to decrease as we start seeing bluer skies and warmer temperatures.”