CHARLESTON - Flu activity is widespread in West Virginia and a state epidemiologist says this year's season could be a bad one.
Widespread activity means increases in flu-related outpatient visits, lab-confirmed flu cases and incidents of influenza outbreaks have been reported in at least half of the state's eight surveillance regions.
"It's shaping up to be a more severe flu season," Shannon McBee, an epidemiologist and influenza coordinator for the state Bureau for Public Health, said. "There's no sign of it dying down right now."
Reports submitted by participating physicians to the state's surveillance system show 4.5 percent of all visits are for "influenza-like-illness."
One flu-related pediatric death has been reported in Jefferson County. Cabell County has reported one adult death.
McBee said the total number of all flu deaths will not be known until after the flu season ends.
Flu season typically lasts for about 12 weeks and peaks in January or February.
Kanawha County has experienced a busy flu season so far, with 39 cases of influenza-like illnesses reported last week alone, said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
The predominant strain of virus this year is Influenza A/H1N1, one of the strains commonly referred to as swine flu and the same strain from flu pandemics in 2009 and 1918.
Young people are being hit particularly hard this year, and one factor is their lack of exposure to this strain virus, Gupta said.
"An entire generation hasn't been exposed," he said.
Some older adults born before 1950 were either vaccinated for H1N1 or already have been exposed to the virus. But they still can get sick.
"We're seeing a lot of long-term care facilities affected this year," McBee said.
Gupta said there is still time to get a flu shot to prevent becoming ill.