VA Health Department reports widespread flu activity

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The flu appears to be on the uptick, after a slow start to the season.

The Virginia Department of Health is now reporting widespread flu activity. That means three of the 5 health regions are seeing more cases. A specialist at the health department says there are about as many cases this time of year as last year, however last year it was declining.

"I would not say the flu is not coming this year," said Dr. Tim Powell, who monitors flu cases at the Virginia Department of Health. "It's definitely on it's way. Unfortunately it's hard to see how severe a season it is though."

Spring-like days all winter have many people wondering if this could affect the flu season. However it's hard for health experts to pinpoint exactly why it's getting a late start this year.

"It's hard to guess," Powell noted. "We can postulate the warmer temperatures may have reduced the virus transmission through the community."

Powell monitors flu cases at the Virginia Department of Health. He monitors flu-like symptoms reported at doctor's offices.

"All the indicators we monitor are showing more people are reporting to hospitals with influenza like illness and more positive lab results," Powell said.

Even though the actual flu season runs from October to May, people really can get sick anytime of year. Powell says the flu tends to peak more in colder weather. When days reach the 60's and 70's, many people wonder if the temperature could be a factor. Powell says there's no way to prove that 100 percent.

Either way, he still encourages everyone to wash their hands, cover their mouth when they cough and stay home if they're sick to prevent infecting others. It's also not too late to get the flu shot. Since reported cases of outbreaks are starting to pick up, Powell says it may not be a bad idea.

The widespread activity just means the health department is seeing flu cases above the baseline level. It compares compares positive labs and outbreaks to cases in September -right before the flu season actually starts in October.

While reported flu cases are down, health experts say cases of the norovirus or stomach flu are up this year.

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