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Flu season off to an early start in some states


Flu season is off to an early start in the South, though Virginia and the Fredericksburg area appear to have been mostly spared so far.

“We’re starting to see the first cases come in now,” said Dr. Brooke Rossheim, director of the Rappahannock Area Health District. “We are not seeing large numbers of cases, and we are not seeing any outbreaks.”

Rossheim said the level of flu in the region appears to be what you would expect in early December.

“Typically with influenza in Virginia, it’s that January to February to March time frame when we see more activity,” he said.

Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg had its first confirmed case of the flu in late September, said Dr. Ed Walsh, medical director for the emergency department.

“We’ve had a dozen or so confirmed cases, which is more or less in keeping with a typical flu season pattern,” Walsh said.

So far the disease does not appear to be severe, Walsh said, and few of the patients have been admitted to the hospital.

Instead, they’ve been sent home and told to get rest and drink plenty of fluids.

“Just like grandma said,” Walsh said.

As of Dec. 1, Virginia is reporting “local” flu activity, the middle of the five categories defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, four Southern states—North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi—are reporting “widespread” levels of flu, the highest category. And two others—Louisiana and Texas—also are reporting unusual levels for early December.

Flu-related hospitalizations also are rising earlier than usual, and there have already been three deaths of children, according to the CDC.

“It looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad flu season, but only time will tell,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, told the Associated Press this week.

The good news is that more than a third of Americans have been vaccinated, Frieden said, and that this year’s flu shot appears to be a good match for the strain of virus that is circulating.

Dr. Maureen Dempsey, acting state health commissioner, reported recently that the Virginia Immunization Information System has recorded almost 500,000 flu shots administered in Virginia so far this season. The number is believed to be an undercount since all providers do not use the state reporting system.

Influenza is a viral illness that’s spread from person to person and can be dangerous for the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions. Typical symptoms include fever, body aches, cough and sore throat.

The flu shot is effective at preventing the disease, and it’s not too late to get one, Rossheim said. The vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months or older.

“The single most important thing that people can do to protect themselves is to get the flu vaccine,” Rossheim said.

Local supplies of the vaccine appear to be adequate.

“As I drive around the area, I’m really glad to see all the pharmacies advertising flu shots,” Rossheim said. “That’s exactly what we want. We want wide availability.”


—The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Jim Hall: 540/374-5433