Cohen: Influenza affecting pediatric patients, youth at higher rates this flu season

BUCKHANNON — The Buckhannon-Upshur community and surrounding counties are facing a string of influenza-positive cases and a high volume of student absences leading to school cancellations.

More than a 100 Buckhannon-Uphur Middle School students were absent from school this week due to the spread of influenza — a virus that has been on the rise in recent weeks.

Peggy Cohen, director of infection prevention and employee health at WVU Medicine St. Joseph’s Hospital, said in an email this week that the hospital has seen an influx in patients testing positive for the flu.

But this uptick in the virus isn’t just being seen in Upshur County. The Centers for Disease Control reported the overall hospitalization rate for the season has increased 29.7 per 100,000. This is similar to what has been seen at this time during recent seasons; however, rates among children and younger adults are higher at this time than in recent seasons.

“So far, it is estimated, according to CDC, that there has been 19 million flu illnesses, 180,000 hospitalizations, 10,000 deaths, and 68 pediatric deaths thus far that are influenza associated,” wrote Cohen.

Currently, influenza A and influenza B are the predominant strains of influenza that patients are testing positive for at St. Joseph’s Hospital, wrote Cohen. Influenza B viruses are the main virus this season, according to the CDC.

“(The) state’s flu activity remains high,” noted Cohen. “There have been other viruses circulating such as GI-nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other respiratory viruses in which they have cough but no fever and test negative for influenza.”

Regarding the much talked about Coronavirus — an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China — Cohen said she could not give a “reasonable answer about the likelihood of it making its way to Buckhannon.”

“We have to think about all our colleges and universities in our state and that we do have international students, and businesspersons who do international travel,” she said.

However, Cohen advised that there are currently six patients being monitored in West Virginia that either had traveled to China or have been in contact with someone who had traveled to China. Two patients are in Wheeling and four are currently in Monongalia County.

Influenza and the Coronavirus have been described as having similar symptoms; however, coronavirus typically included more respiratory issues.

“Coronavirus symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath like a lower respiratory illness. Then you add in the travel history,” explained Cohen. “Whereas, influenza symptoms are fever, feeling feverish/chills, cough sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle/body aches, headache and fatigue.”

St. Joseph’s Hospital is taking the necessary prevention steps should the virus reach the community.

“We do have a group that is reviewing plans and processes for our facility,” she said. “We are screening all patients entering our facility for travel history and respiratory symptoms so that we can take quick action if the patient reports recent travel to China and displaying symptoms.”

Community members should take extra precautions in preventing the spread of either illness, including washing hands often; covering their noses and mouths, getting the flu vaccine; avoiding touching their noses, eyes and mouths, avoiding sick people; and staying home for at least 24 hours if you experience flu-like symptoms.

The hospital is asking patients who come into the facility or any of its clinics with a cough or fever, to put a mask on until evaluated by a provider.

“You are also welcome to put a mask on if there appears to be many sick patients in the waiting room and want to protect yourself,” said Cohen. “We have hygiene stations at entrances to the hospital and on every floor near elevators of our hospital. They are also available in all of our clinics.”

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