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Ah-choo! Has the coughing and sneezing of flu season been worse than usual in Stafford this year? Or does it just seem that way?
By LEE WOOLF
I'M NEITHER a doctor nor a mind reader, but I suspect there has been a runny nose in your home during the past few months--along with a fever, headache, sore throat and assorted body aches, coughs and sneezes.
That's right, today's subject is the flu--that rude and unwelcome visitor that knocks us flat on our backs and disrupts both our family routine and work schedule every winter.
Perhaps your children were among the hundreds who missed school because of illness?
According to figures supplied by Kathy Whitby, the school nurse manager for Stafford County public schools, there have been more than 1,000 absentees from county classrooms each week since mid-October--plus another 50 to 150 students who were sent home each week with symptoms of the flu.
The week of Feb. 18 was the worst, with 1,564 absentees and another 165 children sent home with the flu.
"From these weekly numbers reported by the school nurses, you can actually track how the flu moves across the county," Whitby said. "This year, for example, it looks like flu symptoms started in the northern part of the county and moved south."
The Web site for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention will explain what you already know--that the flu spreads very easily from person to person. It is carried by respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing.
Thus, it's almost impossible to keep the influenza virus from spreading throughout schools, homes and workplaces. Nearly everyone is affected.
Even if you were lucky enough to stay healthy this winter, you probably were required to nurse the sick at home and/or take on added duties at work to fill in for those who were ill.
And if the flu did invade your home, workplace or neighborhood school, you might have suspected that this was the worst plague to strike mankind since the Dark Ages.
But was it, really?
"Actually, flu activity in the area was not unusual this year," said Leah Dewey, an epidemiologist who works in the Rappahannock Area Health District office in Fredericksburg.
Still, Dewey said that as of last week the Virginia Department of Health's flu activity code for our region was "widespread." That's the most severe of five activity levels, but not unusual, according to Dewey.