Flu widespread in NC, but on decline
by Anna Oakes
Influenza-like illness reports have been on the decline since late December at emergency rooms and outpatient providers monitored by the N.C. Division of Public Health, but the virus is still widespread in 48 states, including North Carolina.
"It does look like from what we're seeing in North Carolina, we're seeing a decline in what's being reported as influenza-like illness," said Jennifer Greene, director of allied health for the Appalachian District Health Department. "It's really kind of early to tell."
This year's flu activity came early, as flu infections typically peak between January and March, Greene said. In late December, the Division of Public Health said flu activity in the state was at the highest level recorded in the past decade.
Watauga County Schools Supt. David Kafitz recently told the Board of Education that some schools experienced absentee rates greater than 20 percent before the holiday break, but that schools are seeing better-than-average attendance since returning to school this month.
"The winter break has seemed to have checked that," he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, this year's flu vaccine has reduced the risk for influenza-associated medical visits by about 62 percent.
"Overall, the estimate suggests that the 2012-13 influenza vaccine has moderate effectiveness against circulating influenza viruses," a Jan. 11 CDC report stated. "These early estimates indicate that some vaccinated persons will become infected with influenza, despite having been vaccinated."
But even with moderate effectiveness, the flu vaccine, has been shown to reduce illness, antibiotic use, doctor visits, time lost from work, hospitalizations and deaths, the CDC noted.
"It's not a 100 percent guarantee, but it is the best tool we have," Greene said. "Typically, even the cases of (vaccinated) folks who may get the flu, it's a less severe case of the flu."
Some flu shots are still available. The CDC said manufacturers produced 145 million doses this season, and as of Jan. 11, 129 million doses have been distributed.
Greene said the health department still has state-supplied vaccine available, which it is currently able to offer to the public for free. Appointments and walk-ins are accepted, Greene noted.
Flu shots are also available at pharmacies, urgent care clinics and other medical providers.
If you experience flu-like symptoms and are diagnosed with the flu, the CDC recommends antiviral treatment -- preferably within 48 hours of illness onset -- to reduce the duration of the illness and the complications associated with the flu.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System asks that anyone sick with the flu or flu-like symptoms voluntarily refrain from visiting hospitalized family and friends, as well as those persons at the hospital for an outpatient procedure.
"It is also important that during this time of increased flu cases in our area visitors 12 and under not visit hospitalized family and friends," ARHS said in a recent statement.
Flu viruses spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Sometimes an individual may catch flu by touching an object infected with the virus and then touching the eyes, mouth or nose.
To help prevent the spread of the flu, wash your hands often with soap and water, avoid touching the face, avoid close contact with sick people, cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and stay home from work or school if sick with the flu.
Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills, fatigue, a runny or stuffy nose, headache, diarrhea and vomiting.