Flu activity at highest level in a decade, state says
by Anna Oakes
State and county health officials said Friday that flu activity across North Carolina is at the highest levels recorded in the past decade.
Twelve flu-related deaths have already been reported in the state, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said.
"It is very unusual for us to see this many deaths so early in the flu season," said Laura Gerald, state health director.
Although influenza is not one of the infections or diseases the Appalachian District Health Department is required to track, communications from local doctors, schools, long-term care facilities and others indicate that local flu activity is on par with activity across the state and region, said Candy Gambill, ADHD communicable disease and preparedness coordinator.
"It has come really early this year -- earlier than the last several years," Gambill said.
DHHS encourages all North Carolinians to take time out of their holiday activities to get their annual flu vaccination.
"Because it takes about two weeks for immunity to develop after vaccination, getting an immunization between now and the start of the New Year should provide protection when individuals go back to work or school," a DHHS statement noted.
Health officials say this year's vaccine is a good "match" with this year's flu strains.
"From everything that the state lab has tested, the strains that are currently running out in the community match really good to the flu vaccine," Gambill said.
Currently, state-supplied flu vaccinations are available for free at Appalachian District Health Department locations. The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone older than six months.
"Money should not be a hindrance," Gambill added.
In addition to vaccination, take additional precautions to avoid spreading cold and flu to others by staying home when you are sick, washing your hands regularly with soap and water and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discarding the tissue promptly.
Gambill said she hopes the holiday break will aid in helping flu activity subside.
"With the snow falling, and everybody being at home, maybe it will die down," she said.
The Appalachian District Health Department location in Watauga is at 126 Poplar Grove Connector in Boone. For the clinic, call (828) 264-6635.
For more information about the flu in North Carolina, visit http://www.flu.nc.gov.