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Protect yourself as likely peak flu season nears

January 3, 2019

If this winter is anything like last winter, then people in the Tri-State region had better prepare themselves for the onslaught of the peak flu season because it is likely to strike soon.

Many people already have taken the most significant step to fend off the flu by receiving this season’s flu vaccination, which provides at least some degree of protection for several months. But many have not, meaning they are more susceptible to contracting the disease.

Health officials acknowledge that the vaccination is not 100 percent effective. However, they stress that some degree of protection is better than none. “People tend to take that report (of only partial effectiveness) and underestimate it for themselves and even skip it altogether, but that’s not at all the case,” Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, told The Herald-Dispatch recently. “Even if it’s partially effective, it can keep you out of the hospital, and when people are at high risk, people can die from the flu. We should take any advantage we can, even an imperfect advantage.”

To gauge the threat posed by the flu, consider this: Hundreds of people die from the flu annually in West Virginia, according to Kilkenny.

As of now, flu activity in West Virginia is considered minimal, according to health officials, while in Kentucky and Ohio the incidence of the flu is described as “moderate.” But last winter, when the flu season was one of the worst this decade, the incidence of flu peaked between the first week of January to the end of February, accounting for as much as 8 percent of all emergency room visits. Kilkenny noted that more localized data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate flu activity trending slightly higher in the western portion of West Virginia.

So if this year’s flu trend is similar to last year’s, the peak flu activity could hit soon. That means if you haven’t received a flu vaccination yet, now is the time. The flu vaccine is offered at virtually all health care providers and many drug store clinics. Flu shots are available for free to Cabell County residents at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department at 703 7th Ave., Huntington.

The county health department also suggests that an annual flu vaccination may also stimulate the immune system’s “memory” in fighting the infection each season, though the flu does mutate over time, meaning the new vaccination itself may be different each year as different strains develop.

Besides getting a flu vaccine, the CDC also recommends prevention measures like staying home when you’re sick, avoiding close contact with sick people, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, washing your hands and taking anti-viral medicines if your doctor prescribes them.

A vaccination and the other preventive steps described above give people a better likelihood of warding off the flu and having a healthier winter. That sounds far more appealing than being stricken by the flu and facing potentially serious health consequences.

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