Even though the flu season may have started out slowly in Virginia, health officials are reporting today the flu has now reached the "widespread" stage in Virginia. This is the very highest of five levels of flu activity.
The "Widespread" designation means at least half of the state's health planning regions are reporting high numbers of flu cases. January and February are usually the months when flu is most prevalent, but officials are saying it's too early to say we have reached a peak in the number of cases.
Forty-seven states are now reporting widespread cases of the flu, with the exception of Hawaii, California and Mississippi, where it is still sporadic. About 15 states are reporting especially high levels of flu. They include New York Utah, Texas, Minnesota and Virginia. Only five states are reporting minimal flu levels.
The Hampton Roads region of Virginia and Northern Virginia are reporting three times the number of cases they would normally have at this time in the flu season. Tamiflu is disappearing from the pharmacies and many drug stores are down to their last few doses of the anti-viral medication.
Here in Richmond, emergency rooms and urgent-care centers have seen a sharp increase in the number of people coming in with flu-like symptoms. Johnston-Willis and Chippenham Hospitals have been freeing up beds to accommodate a possible increase in patient loads.
Health officials are still reminding people that it is not too late to get the flu vaccine. There is a good supply available. Doctors at VCU Medical Center are also reminding people to eat a healthy diet and wash their hands.