A-choo! Virginia’s nightmare flu season isn’t over — but it’s getting there

flu seasonWhen the calendar flips from January to February, Virginians can count on a few things: a little more sunlight, slightly warmer temperatures, and most welcome of all, the beginning of the end of yet another flu season. Well, except this year.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of January 28 Augusta Health has reported 821 cases of flu across its network of doctors and has since imposed visitor restrictions to protect patients and staff. In addition, the University of Virginia Medical Center has reported 393 cases, and Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital has reported 312 cases, respectively.

In terms of the percentage of cases that required emergency room admission or urgent care, the highest number of such incidents have occurred in Northern Virginia, followed by Eastern Virginia and Central Virginia. Southwest Virginia and Northwest Virginia had the same percentage of urgent cases (approximately six percent). Across the country, over 12,000 cases of Influenza A have been reported, and a staggering 51 of 54 states are reporting higher-than-normal rates of flu and flu-like symptoms.

Health officials are urging people living with high-risk individuals — such as infant children, pregnant women, those with respiratory issues, and the elderly — to get vaccinated. “[High-risk recipients’] response to the vaccine isn’t as good as somebody who’s not elderly or not a small infant,” commented Dr. James Steinberg, Chief Medical Officer of Emory Healthcare. “If you live in the household or take care of somebody who’s at risk for severe influenza, I think that’s a strong reason for those people to get the vaccine, because they can protect their loved ones who are at higher risk of complications.”

Flu symptoms include cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, runny nose, muscle aches, body aches, fevers, chills, headaches, and in some cases, diarrhea and vomiting (or a nightmarish combination of both). And while these signals aren’t as blatant as, say, neon billboards or vehicle signs, they’re hard to miss — especially since they’re usually accompanied by a sudden energy drain that has been likened many flu sufferers as getting hit by a Mack truck.

Most people who get the flu don’t require antiviral drugs or medical care. However, people in a high-risk group, or who have severe or prolonged symptoms, should contact their health-care provider. Hospitals also warn patients that heading to the emergency room should be a last resort rather than a first option. Otherwise, they’re in for a long, long wait and plenty of annoyed “why-are-you-here?” looks from beleaguered staff, and probably some patients as well. Plus, the last time we checked, hospitals don’t go out of their way to make the stay all that comfortable — it’s not the Four Seasons, after all.

If there is some silver lining here — and it’s hard to find for those who can’t keep a meal down, or who are going through boxes of tissues like there’s no tomorrow — it’s that this extended and miserable flu season won’t last forever. This too shall pass, and then we can go back to focusing on really important things: like how UVA will do in the ACC this year (did someone say 18-0?).