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Virginia seasonal flu rates at highest level with holiday travel on the horizon

Crystal Graham
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This holiday season, it’s not COVID that’s keeping people away from friends and family. It’s actually the flu, or influenza like illness, that has hit Virginia hard since the late summer.

Kids started getting the flu in July and August, said Dr. Sam Hostetter, a physician with Stuarts Draft Family Practice. He said his practice is seeing a lot of positive flu tests now among adults.

“The flu season has been very mild the last couple of years because everyone was masking and staying away from each other,” Hostetter said. “This year has proven to be a bad flu season already.”

Hostetter said their office has been encouraging flu shots since August.

“The CDC maintains a flu map,” Hostetter said, “and Virginia has been at the highest level of influenza like illness, that’s the way the term it, for three or four weeks now.”

Hostetter said in other areas where they’ve had high numbers, like the southeast, the numbers are starting to go down.

“So hopefully we’ve seen our peak and are going to be coming back down again,” he said.

The Virginia Department of Health reports one pediatric death associated with influenza during flu season to date. There have been 0 reports of deaths of adults.

“The flu has been unpleasant and uncomfortable, but not dangerous,” Hostetter said. “It was the kids that were getting it early, and they don’t tend to get severe flu.”

While antibiotics aren’t typically prescribed for viruses, there are antiviral medications that might help with the symptoms – especially for those at the highest risk.

Hostetter said he was discussing with colleagues recently how they have specific data related to COVID on how long to stay home but don’t have the same kind of concrete answer to give to people who test positive for the flu.

“When I talk to a patient, I just say, stay home until your fever is under control, and you’re feeling better.”

For those hitting the road this holiday season, Hostetter said you want to remain cautious.

“It is very reasonable to mask while you’re traveling, when people are flying somewhere, or if they’re taking their time, or spending their time in a large theatre or something,” Hostetter said.

He explained that in a group of 100 people, statistics would say that at least one of them has COVID.

“If you’re going to be seeing relatives that may have health problems or maybe are older, you want to be cautious the few days, or few weeks, beforehand,” he said.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.