Flu season intensifies early throughout N.C.
by Staff Writer
North Carolina is one of eight states to experience a particularly intense early flu season, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flu activity typically peaks in January, but the state has already reported three influenza-related deaths, said Mark Van Sciver, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The number of positive flu test results reported by the State Laboratory of Public Health has also quadrupled since last month.
Two of the victims lived in the Triad area, while the other was from eastern North Carolina. At least one of the victims did not have any pre-existing conditions – such as illness or old age – that would have raised the risk for medical complications.
Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and South Carolina have experienced similar early flu seasons as well, a CDC report states.
The best defense against the flu is the flu vaccine, said Dr. Zack Moore with the N.C. Division of Public Health. Two of the victims had not received a seasonal flu vaccine this year, according to North Carolina Health Director Laura Gerald.
Moore urges everyone older than six months to get a flu shot as soon as possible. The seasonal flu vaccine becomes available as early as August, and the earlier someone can receive the shot the better chance they have of protecting themselves against the virus, he said.
It takes the body about two weeks to fully respond to the vaccine and protection lasts for about a year.
The vaccine, Moore said, does not ensure total protection against the flu. Prior to each flu season, doctors and health researchers from around the world collaborate to predict the strains of flu they expect to spread.
“The flu is always changing so the vaccine has to change with it,” he said.
Some years an unexpected strain of the flu – such as 2009’s H1N1 – takes researchers by surprise and flu shots aren’t as effective. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year.
“However, there is some evidence that illness is less severe in people who have received the vaccine,” Moore said.
With fever being one of the key symptoms, the CDC recommends victims wait 24 hours after being fever free – without the use of fever-reducing medications – before returning to work or school.
“Most flu victims will recover without special medical treatment,” Moore said.
Flu victims who are older than 65, younger than 5, pregnant or suffer from medical conditions such as asthma or heart disease are urged to immediately consult medical services.
Seeking medical help is even more important for anyone who experiences extreme symptoms, such as shortness of breath, trouble breathing or confusion.
Where can I get the flu shot?
The following pharmacies and health centers provide in-store flu shots.
• CVS/Pharmacy Stores
• Rite Aid
• Target Pharmacy
• Public health departments
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has also created an online Flu Vaccine Finder at http://flushot.healthmap.org. Just type in your address or zip code and the tool will bring up the closest places offering the vaccine.
Flu shots are covered by many insurance plans. Call ahead to verify your coverage. Shots typically cost between $5 and $30 out-of-pocket.