PARKERSBURG - Even though the flu season is in full swing with a large number of people across the country sick with the virus, public health officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated.
"It is not too late to get vaccinated for this flu season," said Jessica Woods, interim regional epidemiologist with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department. "As long as the flu virus is active in the community, the shot can be effective to prevent it from spreading."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccine's effectiveness depends on the age and health of the person getting vaccinated and the "match" between the type of virus circulating and types in the vaccine.
The vaccine works best for young healthy adults and older children and may not be as effective for some older people and those with certain chronic illnesses, although it could still provide some protection, officials said.
"It is very difficult to determine how well a flu vaccine works and how well it 'matches' the circulating types," Woods said. "The flu vaccine is not perfect, but it is the best defense against the flu virus."
The vaccine is 62 percent effective, which means 38 percent of the people who get the shot will still contract the virus and become ill, Woods said.
"It is difficult to tell why some flu seasons are worse than others," she said. "Trends in flu occurrence are hard to predict and depend on an enormous variety of factors; the only thing that's certain about flu season is that nothing is certain about flu season."
In general, flu activity appears to be decreasing, but it is difficult to determine whether it has peaked in our area, Woods said. Experts with the CDC believe some parts of the country may have peaked while other areas are still in the upswing.
"It is important to know that after vaccination, it takes about two weeks for the body to develop protection against the flu virus," Woods said. "So, if you are exposed to the disease between getting the shot and your body developing the protection, you can still get sick."
This flu season began early this year and is more severe than in previous years with the epidemic having resulted in an influx of people seeking medical attention from their family physicians, emergency care facilities and emergency rooms, according to the CDC website (www.cdc.gov).
"Last week our two emergency rooms were absolutely overwhelmed," said Tim Brunicardi, director of marketing and public affairs for Camden Clark Medical Center. "We're still getting a lot of flu patients, but the number has tapered off a little bit and we are better able to handle the patients coming in."
Brunicardi said the number of people in the emergency departments at the Memorial and St. Joseph's campuses was nearly at crisis level with staff members from other departments helping with those presenting with flu-like symptoms.
The Marietta Memorial Hospital emergency room is continuing to see a large number of patients presenting with the flu, said Jennifer Offenberger, director of marketing and public relations at Memorial Health System.
"Because of the number of people with the flu, we have limited visitors to patients in the hospital," Offenberger said. "We are allowing no more than two people at any given time to visit per patient and no one younger than 12 years old is allowed to visit.
"We just want to remind people to remain as healthy as possible and to be thoughtful of others and their health in our facilities," she said.