ELKINS - The holiday season is wrapping up, but a new season is just beginning - the flu season, and shots are still available. The flu, particularly the A strain of the H1N1 virus, seems to be more prevalent now than in past years, officials said.
"Influenza A is upon us," Dr. Philip Chua, a family practice physician, said. "We have sent some testing for H1N1 as well and I expect it is here as well as it is in the surrounding states."
Misti Shine, a registered nurse and infection preventionist at Davis Memorial Hospital, said, "It is still pretty early and just now starting to come around to our area. It is really affecting more young and middle-aged adults."
Bonnie Woodrum, the Randolph-Elkins Health Department's infectious disease specialist, said the flu didn't show up as early in the year as it has in the past, but it is still early, as normal flu season starts in late January and runs into February.
"This year is starting to look like it will be worse than normal," said Woodrum. "We have more cases reported now through December than we normally have by this time of year."
Typical flu symptoms consist of fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and head and body aches. High fever is one of the defining characteristics of the flu. If you don't have the rise in fever, it is likely just a cold. Another characteristic of the flu is that it is a "sudden onset" condition, which means you could feel fine when you go to bed and wake up with all the symptoms.
Flu cases will likely rise in the area over the next few weeks and there are ways to protect yourself from the virus, such as avoiding people who have contracted flu, along with avoiding sharing items that can be contaminated easily, such as writing utensils, glasses and books.
Also, the flu vaccine is a good preemptive measure, officials said.
"It is not too late to get the vaccine," said Woodrum. "It takes one week to 10 days for protection to start and peaks with the greatest protection being at 12 weeks."
Shine added that the vaccine is offered as a nasal mist or as a shot. The mist is a live vaccine, but the mist is based on availability.
The mist is a favorable option for children or people with a phobia of needles. These vaccines can be acquired at almost all local pharmacies and physicians' offices.
"The vaccine is available for anyone 6 months and up," said Shine. "It is also OK for pregnant women."
If you start to notice flu-like symptoms, go to a doctor to be seen as soon as possible, officials said. Antibiotics, such as Tami-flu, can be given within the first 48 hours of illness. After that time, antibiotics will not help. Tylenol and Ibuprofen can also helpful as a fever reducer.
If you have the flu, try to get plenty of fluids and rest, along with staying in to lower the possibility of spreading the virus to other people, officials said. If you must go out, masks are available that can be worn to avoid the spread of the illness.
Hand hygiene is also a great way to avoid getting or spreading the flu. Woodrum suggested soaping your hands and making sure you wash them for an appropriate length of time by singing the song "Happy Birthday" to yourself before you stop washing.
Thoroughly rinse your hands to make sure the germs are being washed off in addition to being killed by the soap, she said.
"We expect the season to be worse than normal, and people need to be on alert for the symptoms and start taking care of it early," said Woodrum. "Hand-washing is the single most effective way to stop the spread of infection."