Community, Editorial Author, MaryWade Triplett

Be my safe valentine; take steps to avoid the flu

This is the weekend to celebrate love, and as a public health professional, I was amused when a friend posted this fun meme:

“A Valentine’s Haiku
Love is in the air
But so is influenza
Wash your filthy hands”

We all know the drill. And yet, it still needs to be said.

Your best protection against influenza is getting a flu vaccine. After that, practices that will also help protect you from getting sick include good hand-washing, plenty of sleep and covering coughs and sneezes. If you do get influenza, stay home and talk to your doctor about antiviral medication.

I don’t think I’m the only one who occasionally sees people leave public restrooms without washing their hands. And they don’t seem to be humming the “Happy Birthday” song twice, which is also a recommended guideline for how long it takes to get a good scrub.

I don’t think I’m alone when I tell this story about a former colleague who would come to the office and proudly announce that he had boldly come into work in spite of having the flu. To him, this was a point of pride that he had eschewed staying safely at home, where he could rest, recover and not infect everyone within 10 feet.

I want to make it clear that this was a few jobs ago, so this wasn’t at Monongalia County Health Department. Because knowing these rules is our job.

Seasonal flu is upon us and cases have been on the rise. It began spiking about a month ago. So far, this season is worse than the past two, but not as bad as 2017-18. Flu does not appear to have peaked.

One thing that is different about this flu season is there also is another illness floating around, although not in West Virginia and so far, not in any states surrounding us.

Novel coronavirus, now officially called Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), has been diagnosed in 15 people in six states. They are Washington state, California, Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

No, we don’t want to dismiss coronavirus. And yes, the number of cases worldwide spiked this week after a decision was made to take into account cases doctors had diagnosed using clinical methods.

In the United States, however, cases are not going up quickly. Travel from China has been severely restricted. Those who are returning from China are being put into quarantine or are under self-quarantine, which basically means they will stay home for two weeks to make sure they don’t develop symptoms. Symptoms include a fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

If anyone who has not been to China develops those symptoms, it’s much more likely the cause is another respiratory illness. After all, those are pretty basic symptoms.

Certainly, if someone has a real reason to be concerned, action should be taken. As Monongalia County Health Department has been advising, in messaging developed with WVU Medicine and Mon Health Medical Centers, “action” does not mean going to an emergency department or physician’s office and sitting in a waiting room.

Instead, there are two phone numbers to call: the WVU Medical Access and Referral System (MARS) line at 304-598-6000 and Mon Health Medical Center at 304-285-3798.

In terms of who should be concerned, guidance has been divided into three categories, all of which require a person to have either just returned from China or to have interacted with someone who has just returned from China and has been confirmed to be ill.

These guidelines include: (1) individuals with fever OR signs of lower respiratory illness AND who have had close contact with a person confirmed to have coronavirus within 14 days of symptom onset; (2) fever AND symptoms of lower respiratory illness AND a history of travel from Hubei province, China, within 14 days of symptom onset; and (3) fever AND symptoms of lower respiratory illness requiring hospitalization AND a history of travel from mainland China within 14 days of symptom onset.

We’ve been fielding calls at the health department from concerned citizens from a variety of West Virginia counties who are worried about coronavirus. If a person has not just returned from China or interacted with someone diagnosed with the illness, they should not be worried about coronavirus.

But flu? That’s wide-spread in all 55 counties.

So, enjoy Valentine’s Day weekend, while taking precautions against seasonal flu.

If I had public health conversation hearts, I would pass them out to help drive the message home. Be safe. Wash hands. Cover coughs. Stay sweet and stay home if you’re sick.

And if you still haven’t gotten a flu vaccine, it’s not too late. You can call your health care provider or MCHD Clinical Services at 304-598-5119 to make an appointment.

Contact Mary Wade Triplett at 304-598-5152 or at Contact MCHD at 304-598-5100 and find out more about MCHD at, on Facebook and Twitter @wvmchd and on Instagram at #wvmchd.