Across North Carolina, influenza is at the highest levels recorded in the past decade, state health officials said Friday, with 12 flu-related deaths reported so this fall.
State Health Director Laura Gerald encouraged N.C. residents to take time out from holiday activities to get an annual flu vaccination if they haven’t already.
“It is very unusual for us to see this many deaths so early in the flu season,” Gerald said. “This year’s vaccine is well-matched to the strains of flu we are seeing in North Carolina so we strongly recommend that anyone over 6 months old be vaccinated.”
Flu outbreaks have been reported in schools and long-term care facilities across the state. Although everyone is at risk, flu can be especially dangerous for pregnant women, people with chronic diseases, very young children and the elderly because they are people at high risk for complications, such as pneumonia.
Even though flu season is underway, “I still tell people ‘Get the vaccine,’ ” said Dr. Dino Kanelos, a family physician with Carolina Family Healthcare in Weddington. “It could get worse. The flu usually peaks about February or March.”
Several types of vaccine are available, Kanelos said, including traditional shots, a nasal spray and a high-dose vaccine for seniors. State-supplied flu vaccine is available at no charge from most local health departments and some health care providers. Many pharmacies also offer the vaccine. To find a location, visit flu.nc.gov.
“This is one of the worst (flu seasons) in at least four years, if not in the last seven or eight,” Kanelos said. “Last year, I probably had a total of 10 to 20 cases of flu for the whole year, from October through April. This year, just in the last three weeks, I think we’ve had over 100 cases of flu.”
All have tested positive for influenza, and only about five had already been immunized. “I don’t know if it’s a different strain or if their immune systems just didn’t grab the flu vaccine to develop immunity.”
Kanelos said he reminds patients to wash their hands frequently.
“This flu is really catching the lungs big time, and there is significant coughing and significant runny nose. These people are coughing into their hands and wiping their noses...and they’re just spreading it like crazy.
“You’ve got to wash your hands, and don’t touch your face. I just read a study that said we touch our faces 23 times a day without even knowing about it. It’s what we do automatically.”
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