ELKINS - Elkins-Randolph County Health Department officials say it is not too late to take the flu vaccine, which is considered vitally important to maintaining good health - particularly if this flu season is as rough as the last one.
Bonnie Woodrum, the health department's infectious control specialist, said that although the flu vaccine is not a 100-percent guarantee you won't get the flu, it is the best form of prevention available.
"Folks who should definitely receive the flu vaccine include the very young, the elderly and those with underlying chronic conditions and illnesses," Woodrum said. "Chronic illnesses are worsened by getting the flu."
Those chronic illnesses include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and diabetes. She said statistics about the flu and its hospitalization rate are sometimes hard to track.
"Lots of people who are admitted to the hospitals with flu come because of the side effects of the flu," Woodrum said. "It makes people who are chronically ill sicker, so they are not technically admitted for the flu, but for the effects it has on their illnesses.
'Last year was a bad season for the flu," Woodrum said. "It had been mild for the last few seasons, and lots of folks were taking the vaccine."
Woodrum said last season, there were at least three infant deaths nationwide because of the flu. She said she tracked the flu in Randolph County and absenteeism was high in all schools and many workplaces last season. She said she tracked outbreaks in two elementary schools.
"Last flu season, the demand for the flu vaccine at the health department was four times the usual demand for January," Woodrum said. "One West Virginia correctional facility reported approximately 300 cases of flu at their facility during the past flu season."
Health department officials remind folks the timing of the flu season is unpredictable from season to season; however, in West Virginia, flu activity commonly peaks in January or February. Flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May.
Precautions to take to avoid the flu include staying away from sick people and washing hands to reduce the risk. Officials also recommend staying home from school or work if you are sick with flu symptoms to prevent spreading flu to others.
The Elkins-Randolph County Health Department, located at 32 Randolph Ave. in Elkins, offers flu vaccinations from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and from 3 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays.
"We can bill insurance for the vaccinations," Woodrum said. "If there is no insurance, we ask for a nominal fee for the vaccination. But no one will be turned away because of their ability to pay."
HomePlus, located at 22 Buffalo St. in Elkins, is sponsoring a flu shot clinic from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday. The cost for adult vaccines is $20 cash or check only and Medicare patients are free of charge when presenting their valid Medicare card.
Additional information about the flu vaccine is available by calling the Elkins-Randolph County Health Department at 304-636-0396.