Officials: Flu activity levels at their highest, still on the rise

FILE - In this Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 file photo, a flu vaccine injection is administered at the Brownsville Events Center by a pharmacist in Brownsville, Texas. According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, this year's flu season is off to a quick start and so far it seems to be dominated by a nasty bug. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – Flu season is in full swing.

New data released Thursday by the Virginia Department of Health shows flu activity levels at their highest and continuing to rise in our area.

That’s why they held a free flu shot clinic in Hampton Thursday.

“I don’t want to say don’t hug and kiss everybody, but this is not the season to do that because we are spreading germs,” said Nancy Lemis, district epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health.

“So the more people can get vaccinated the more protection we have out there,” she explained.

Dozens of people took advantage of the chance to get the shot. Their reasons varied.

“I didn’t feel protected,” said Hampton resident Deborah Williamson.

While Jennifer Day said, “With my son I don’t want him getting sick. Trying to keep him healthy and I had lost my full-time job so I don’t have insurance so the cost was a big problem for me.”

Melinda Lowe’s young niece has already had the vaccine, but she’d held off until now.

“I guess it was just one of those things you know, I’ll do it tomorrow or I’ll do it the next day. You just kind of never get around to it. Then after seeing the news and all that has taken place I just thought you know it’s today. Today is the day,” she said.

On Friday, the CDC reported overall hospitalizations are now the highest they’ve ever seen. Officials said so far this season 53 children across the U.S. have died from the flu.

34 people died from the flu between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3 in North Carolina, bringing the total number of flu deaths in the state to 140, according to data released by health officials on Thursday.

Health officials say it’s not too late to get the vaccine.

“It may not be as good a match as we’ve seen in the past but by getting the vaccine you are at least giving yourself some immunity,” Lemis said.

In addition to the things you can do to protect yourself like hand washing, covering your cough and staying home if you’re sick, there are some other things you need to know.

Even if you get a flu vaccine now, you’ll still need another one in the fall for next year’s flu season.

Plus, if you do feel sick, taking an anti-viral medicine like Tamiflu can decrease the severity of your symptoms.

“The flu virus itself can affect anybody,” Lemis said.

There were 135 vaccines available during the free flu clinic, but Hampton officials ran out an hour earlier than planned.

So they’re having another one next Thursday, February 15 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (or until the vaccine runs out) at Peninsula Health District, 416 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News.