CHARLESTON, W.Va. — School students throughout West Virginia will be asked in the coming days and weeks to take a pledge — a pledge to cover their coughs and wash their hands frequently to try to stop the spread of the flu during what could be the worst flu season the Mountain State has seen in several years.
Officials with the state Department of Health and Human Resources and the state Department of Education announced the start of the pledge campaign on Monday at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School in Charleston.
“We know that this year, this season especially with the H3N2 (flu strain), is going to be a tough season going forward,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, state Health Officer. “We know this because we’re seeing an epidemic level of cases across the nation and, certainly, our state’s not exempt.”
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control declared a flu epidemic nationwide with many states, including West Virginia, reporting widespread flu activity early in the flu season.
The predominant strain that is circulating, influenza A H3N2, is associated with more severe illness and mortality, especially in young children and older people.
Xzavion Henkins, a 2nd grader at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School, remembers the last time he got sick. “When I was six years old, I threw up and I had a cut on my knee,” he told MetroNews. To try to avoid getting sick this year, he said he’s taking the state pledge.
“That you need to wash your hands with soap and water. Cough into your arm and sneeze with a tissue,” he said.
“If we have students who are sick, how can they come to school? How can they learn?” asked Dr. Michael Martirano, state Superintendent of Schools, who talked with Henkins and other students at the Charleston school Monday about proper handwashing.
“We want to make certain we’re washing our hands and not just putting our hands under the water and saying, ‘I’ve washed my hands,’ but vigorously washing our hands,” Martirano explained. “Make certain that you’re washing your thumbs. That’s you’re using the soap.”
The DHHR is promoting the following preventative steps to fight the flu:
– Get a flu shot. While the flu vaccine does not match the dominant strain, H3N2, circulating this year, health officials said it can still protect you against other circulating strains and reduce the chances of developing flu-related complications.
– Wash your hands frequently, cover your cough and sneeze into your sleeve if you do not have a tissue.
– Wipe down frequently touched surfaces with a disinfectant.
– Stay home if you’re sick.
Verda Jenkins, a 2nd grader, said that’s what she did the last time she got sick. “It was whenever I had this really bad stomach virus. I stayed home until I got better,” she said.
Symptoms of the flu, as opposed to a cold, include quick onset of fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough. People with flu-like symptoms are advised to see a medical provider.