Flu shots still recommended for region

Local flu cases have been less intense than in recent years, but Northern Virginia is seeing more cases than in other regions of the state, according to Dr. Charles Devine, health director of the Lord Fairfax Health District with the Virginia Department of Health.

The Virginia Department of Health monitors influenza-like activity levels weekly from October through May of each flu season, he said.

“Influenza surveillance isn’t designed to count individual cases because that would be nearly impossible to do,” Devine said. “Not all people with the illness even see a physician, and few persons who do see a physician with an influenza-like illness will actually need to have a test performed. Because we can’t know of each and every case of influenza, we instead track the activity level of influenza-like illness.”

Influenza-like illnesses are defined as illnesses with a fever along with a cough and/or a sore throat, he added. Activity levels of these illnesses are monitored by looking at illness complaints to lead people to find care in hospitals or urgent care centers.

Across the commonwealth, he said the greatest activity is being seen in children through age 18.

The length of each region’s flu season varies each year.

“We can’t predict how long we will be seeing influenza-like illness activity or how long this season will persist,” he said.

Devine said receiving the flu vaccination is most effective in preventing infection.

“The best protection against influenza is a flu vaccination each year for everyone six months of age or older,” he said.

For those who don’t like shots, he added, “There is a nasal spray vaccine that is effective and doesn’t require a shot.”

After receiving the vaccine, your body will need time to build immunity to the flu, he said.

“It takes about two weeks for your body to build immunity in response to an influenza vaccination. Because of this, it is better to get your influenza vaccination before influenza arrives in town, but vaccination can still provide protection as long as you aren’t already incubating influenza,” he said.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com