CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State health officials say flu activity in West Virginia has increased overall for the sixth consecutive week.
Influenza-related hospitalization rates for the season have skyrocketed. West Virginia has had two pediatric flu-related deaths. There have been 53 pediatric deaths nationwide.
The state Department of Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health is characterizing it as a “high severity flu season.” DHHR Influenza Coordinator Shannon McBee tells MetroNews the season may extend well into May.
“I can’t even say that we’ve peaked for the season, but it’s definitely the worst flu season we’ve had on record in over decade,” she said.
People seeking care for flu-like symptoms at emergency rooms in West Virginia increased last week from 6.5 percent to 7.3 percent, McBee said. The number of laboratory confirmed cases of flu slightly decreased last week from 903 to 882.
As of Thursday, McBee said hospitals in West Virginia have not had to turn patients away due to overcrowding.
“We do monitor that. We haven’t received any reports from any individual hospitals having to turn away patients because they were overloaded,” she said.
While the flu vaccine may not be very effective this season, McBee said it does reduce the severity and length of illness.
“That could mean the difference between whether you become hospitalized or not,” she said.
Because of the sheer volume of flu cases reported statewide, Kanawha County officials are taking preventative steps to make sure people in the community are vaccinated. The County Commission recently purchased 4,000 flu vaccines from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to provide to people for free.
Commissioner Ben Salango said the health department had left over shots they were going to return to the manufacturer. He said, instead, the county decided to take action.
“If we can curtail the spread of flu here in Kanawha county, I think that’s a good thing,” Salango said. “A lot of folks have already had their flu shot, but many have not, and so even if we can do it now, it’ll still be effective in preventing the flu.”
Salango joined health officials at a free flu shot station that was set up at the Charleston Town Center Mall Thursday.
Erica Mani, regional CEO of the American Red Cross in West Virginia, was there to get her flu shot. She said typically gets her shot at the beginning of the flu season.
“I’ve never waited this long before, but hearing that this could go on, this flu season, well into April right now is a good time to get it done,” she said. “We’re always telling people how to take care of themselves, how to prepare, how to be healthy and I’m just trying to live be example here and get my flu shot.”
Stations will be set up throughout the county until all 4,000 shots are provided. Free flu shots will be available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the Kanawha County Courthouse.