We're into February, traditionally when flu season peaks, and there's been barely a hint of the illness on the Peninsula, statewide or even across the country. "We really haven't seen much flu yet. I think the important word is yet," says David Trump, director of the Peninsula Health District.
Trump received the first lab confirmation of a local flu case on Tuesday. "We may be at the very beginning of it finally," he adds.
He's not alone in thinking that the flu, a viral infection of the lungs, is just tardy this year. The recognized season runs from October through mid-May, typically peaking in January and February. Last year's statistics show Virginia reporting "widespread" flu from mid-December through March. Currently, they're showing flu as "regional," which means there have been confirmed cases in two of Virginia's five health regions, but no outbreaks.
"For all practical purposes, we are not having any flu. It's a little bit unusual. In most years, flu has been widespread into April," says Bill Berg, director of the Hampton Health Department. He warns against getting lulled into thinking there'll be no flu season this year — and advises that it's not too late to get the flu vaccine. "It could change," he says. "This is atypical, but there have been years nationally when the peak occurred in April."
Diane Woolard, state epidemiologist for the state Department of Health, concurs. "We don't know when or if it will come. It's always unpredictable. It could still be around the corner," she says. "We want to encourage the flu vaccine. It's not too late to be protected."
While the experts condone the flu vaccine for personal protection, they do not attribute the slow flu season to it. It takes the immunization of 90 percent of a population to prevent an outbreak, according to Berg. The Centers for Disease Control reports that last year 42 percent of the population received the vaccine by the end of March. This year's figures show a 4 percent increase in the number receiving flu shots at the beginning of the season.
While flu hasn't made its presence felt yet, other viruses that cause respiratory distress, such as the common cold and RSV, have increased and are keeping pace with predicted seasonal activity, says Trump.
The symptoms of flu include fever, headache, chills, cough and sore throat; they occur from one to three days after exposure and usually last for about a week. It is spread by coughing and sneezing and is most serious in young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
What to do about the flu
•It's not too late to get a flu shot;
• If you get the flu, stay home;
• Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze;
• Wash your hands frequently.