Strains of flu sweep nation

Posted: January 4, 2014

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — For the third consecutive week, influenza is far-reaching, with “swine flu” making a resurgence across the region and nation.

“We are seeing, across the state, widespread outbreaks of influenza, and a significant number of cases is H1N1 [swine flu],” said Dr. Charles Devine, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District.

The district covers Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Page and Shenandoah counties.

This season, the health district has administered 3,838 doses of influenza vaccine, which protects against H1N1.

Devine said the number, however, does not reflect the amount of coverage in the district because the vaccine is also available in doctors’ offices and pharmacies.

Although most flu strains cause severe illness in the old and young, the H1N1 strain more frequently causes serious illness in healthy children and young adults, according to Devine.

H1N1 was last highly prevalent in 2009.

In northwestern Virginia (where the district is located), more than 3 percent of emergency room and urgent care visits during the past week were for influenza-like illnesses, according to Devine.

From September to December, the Winchester Medical Center emergency department administered 238 flu tests, with 19 patients testing positive for influenza. Eleven were admitted to the hospital, according to Desiree Brunelle, director of emergency services.

The numbers are down from the same period last year, when the hospital administered 543 flu tests and received 177 positive test results.

Although individual cases of the norovirus, or stomach flu, have occurred, no outbreaks of the illness have been confirmed in the district, according to Devine, who added that he “would not be surprised” to see a few cases soon.

Devine said officials are investigating one report from a congregate care center of an illness “that is consistent with the virus,” but have not confirmed it.

WMC has not had any patients who tested positive for norovirus this season, according to Brunelle.

The Virginia Department of Health has received reports of 62 norovirus outbreaks across the state since Oct. 1.

The virus causes a patient’s stomach/intestines to become inflamed and leads to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Devine encouraged individuals to obtain a flu shot, wash their hands frequently, dispose of used tissues, cough into their sleeves and stay at home when they are sick.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com