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Public health officials ‘nervous’ about flu after two years of COVID-19 precautions

MORGANTOWN — After two years on the sidelines, the flu is once again ready for primetime, with COVID-19 precautions cast in a supporting role.

During Thursday’s meeting of the Monongalia County Board of Health, County Health Officer Dr. Lee Smith said public health officials are getting nervous about influenza.

“Since we’ve had masks and had hand-washing and had distancing, we’ve not seen influenza in typical numbers over the last two years … We just haven’t seen it,” Smith said. “But people who follow that are rather nervous because we don’t have the typical resistance that one gets from having an infection repeatedly. So we are a more susceptible population and the concern is that if we get a strong viral type, like H1N1, that it could emerge as another pandemic.”

According to Smith, the CDC and NACCHO — National Association of County and City Health Officials — have set a goal to vaccinate 80% of individuals aged 65 and older against the flu.

Smith said he’s aware there are going to be people who resist getting the shots once they become available this fall.

“But the reality is the lesson we learned from COVID is applicable to influenza, which is if you take the vaccine and you still contract the illness, you’re not going to die. It’s going to keep you out of the hospital. It’s going to keep you healthy,” he said.

Speaking of COVID-19, it’s still here.

In fact, Smith said, the county is now hovering somewhere around a rolling seven-day average of 35 new cases per 100,000 people.

When the pandemic began, over 25 was considered the danger zone according to metrics created at Harvard University and used by the Monongalia County Health Department.

“We have yet to be out of that since June 2021. We have been in the red continuously,” Smith said.

But that’s not all — monkeypox cases across the United States doubled in just over a week, to 4,638 as of Thursday morning.

Smith said West Virginia has one known case and one suspected case, in Martinsburg and Kanawha County, respectively.

He said the state has received a small number of monkeypox vaccines against the virus, which, to this point, has been reported to be primarily infecting “gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.”

MCHD has requested two vaccination kits in order to inoculate staff who will administer the vaccines once available.

While vaccination eligibility requirements may change as doses become more widely available, currently those seeking the vaccine must be 18 years of age; have had multiple or anonymous sex partners within 14 days and be a man who has sex with men, transgender, gender non-conforming or gender non-binary. 

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