'Swine flu' returns
by Anna Oakes
North Carolina was among 35 states experiencing widespread flu activity in the week ending Jan. 4, according to the CDC, with 20 states reporting high levels of influenza-like illness. This is the first season that the H1N1 virus has circulated at high levels since the 2009 pandemic, the CDC said.
"The majority of the flu that we are seeing is H1N1," said Candy Graham, preparedness coordinator for the Appalachian District Health Department. Graham said the high level of flu activity has arrived earlier in the flu season than usual.
"It has gotten here a little earlier and we're seeing more cases, (and) I do know just from talking with the hospitals that they are seeing more cases," said Graham. However, health departments do not report numbers on flu cases unless they result in a death.
Graham said that this year's strain mostly affects younger adults and children and "that symptoms tend to be just a little bit more severe, especially for people with underlying disease or underlying complications.
"That's the same thing we saw back in 2009 as well," she noted.
Flu activity has been widespread in North Carolina since mid-December, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. High activity levels are expected to continue over the coming weeks, "as flu season typically peaks during January and February."
As of Jan. 9, the department reported that 21 adult deaths in the state have been linked to influenza this season. Of those, 19 have been young and middle-aged adults -- most of whom had underlying medical conditions -- and two have adults older than 65.
"Conditions like asthma, congestive heart failure and diabetes can increase the risk for complications from flu," State Health Director Robin Gary Cummings said in a statement.
Cummings urged people to get the flu vaccine, especially women who are pregnant, people who are obese and people who have medical conditions such as heart or lung disease that place them at higher risk for severe illness.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the vaccine to provide protection against the flu.
Graham said that plenty of flu vaccine is available at county health departments in Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties, and that the vaccines protect against the H1N1 strain.
If you do come down with the flu, Graham recommends seeing a doctor, washing your hands, drinking plenty of fluids, getting plenty of rest and "please do not go to work or school."
"Those at higher risk of complications from flu should see a doctor right away if they suspect they might have influenza," Cummings said. "Early treatment with antiviral medicine is an important second line of defense for those who become ill."
For more information on flu prevention and treatment and to find out where you can get a flu vaccination, visit http://www.flu.nc.gov or call the Appalachian District Health Department at (828) 264-6635.