CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The flu season is underway and many of this year's cases, locally and nationally, are the H1N1 strain, Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said Tuesday.The "swine flu," as the H1N1 strain is commonly known, caused many hospitalizations during the 2009 flu season.That strain, which particularly affects young and middle-aged people, is the predominant flu strain that's been circulating this year so far, Gupta said. It's been circulating since the 2009 outbreak, Gupta said."Viruses have a tendency to get established and come back in the next few years," Gupta said.That's one of the reasons why the H1N1 strain is included in the flu vaccine this year, he said.Gupta said now is the time for those who haven't been vaccinated to get a shot.
"The flu season peaks in late January and February," Gupta said. "We do expect the flu activity to rise in the next few weeks. There's a small, narrow opportunity for those who don't have a vaccine to get it."This is not the kind of thing to wait until the last minute on. It takes two weeks to develop immunity," Gupta said.So far the number of flu cases and hospitalizations locally has been consistent with flu activity in years past, Gupta said. Across the nation and in Virginia and Pennsylvania, though, flu cases are on the rise, he said.Last year around the country approximately 380,000 people, many of whom had chronic illnesses or other medical problems, were hospitalized because of flu-related illnesses.The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department has so far given around 14,000 vaccines, Gupta said. The department has a variety of vaccine options including nasal spray and an egg-free vaccine for those who are allergic to eggs.The health department is closed today for the New Years holiday but typically offers flu vaccines on weekdays from 8-4 p.m. at its 108 Lee St. E. location. The health department can bill 30 different insurance companies, Gupta said.@tag:Reach Lori Kersey at firstname.lastname@example.org