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Reported flu cases are few

February 08, 2002

Reported flu cases are few



By SARAH MULLIN / Staff Writer


Tri-State area health officials say there have been fewer cases of the flu in the area this season, and some attribute that to the fact more residents were inoculated against the seasonal ailment.

The Washington County Health Department has given 7,100 flu shots this season, about 2,000 more than last year, county Health Officer William Christoffel said.

In West Virginia, the Berkeley County Health Department has given more than 2,000 flu shots since October, Health Department Administrator Jay Jack said.

The Jefferson County (W.Va.) Health Department reported giving 1,000 shots in that same period.

"We are having a very mild season and I attribute that to the fact that more people are receiving flu shots than ever before," Christoffel said.

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October is the ideal time to receive a flu shot because the vaccine provides immunity for six months, said Robin Akin, director of infection control and employee health at Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, W.Va.

If the shot is administered before October, the immunity from the vaccine will wear off before flu season ends, she said.

The Centers for Disease Control has anecdotal evidence that more people are getting flu shots due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, but there is no data to prove that is the case, CDC spokesman Curtis Allen said.

There have been two reported cases of flu in Maryland so far this flu season.

There have been no reported outbreaks in hospitals or schools in Pennsylvania, said Richard McGarvey, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Health Center.

Those who did test positive for influenza all had the same type, he said.

"All of them were the same strain of flu, A/Moscow, which is covered in the flu shot. If people got their flu shot then they will be safe," McGarvey said.

There have been seven confirmed cases of the flu in Berkeley County, said Shari Self-Vitale, infection control coordinator at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Jefferson Memorial Hospital has had 30 admissions for patients with a gastrointestinal virus, which causes nausea and diarrhea leading to dehydration, but no admissions for the flu, Akin said.

McGarvey said this is the time of year when gastrointestinal viruses, colds and flu are prevalent. His advice is to eat properly, maintain good hygiene such as washing hands regularly, and get plenty of sleep and exercise.

Schools across the area have not seen a drop in attendance due to the flu.

"Normally by this time we have, but there has been no problem this year," said Taylor Perry, director of pupil services for Berkeley County Schools.

Jefferson County schools have experienced more illness among teachers than among students, said Sandra Dougherty, schools attendance officer.

Christoffel said a few Washington County schools have had a 10 percent absentee rate, with most absences attributed to gastrointestinal problems, headaches and colds.

An official with Chambersburg Area Middle School said the school has had a 5 to 10 percent increase in absences in the past two weeks for flu-like symptoms, such as coughing, headaches, upset stomachs and body aches.

Allen said 15 of the last 19 flu seasons peaked after January.

"We haven't seen the brunt of it. There is more to come," Self-Vitale said.

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