Health officials say influenza problems in the Carolinas continue to increase, as we move into the height of the holiday season.
Officials in both states say the number of cases continued to grow last week, and the Carolinas are among seven states with “High” levels of influenza, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. All of those states are in the South.
North Carolina Health Director Laura Gerald said flu activity in the state is the highest in a decade. There have been 12 flu-related deaths in North Carolina and 10 in South Carolina, including three last week in the Palmetto State.
What worries health officials is the early arrival of the flu.
“It is very unusual for us to have seen 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 six months old be vaccinated.”
Health experts say they hope the holiday break in schools and day-care facilities will help, because flu outbreaks have been widespread in those places. However, they also say influenza might be spread during the holidays as people gather for parties and other family gatherings.
Gerald said people should be vaccinated against the flu. She said it takes about two weeks for immunity to develop after vaccination, so getting a shot this week will protect people by early January. Typically, the height of flu season is in January and February.
Gerald also said people with flu should stay home when they are sick. And, she added, it is especially important for people to wash their hands regularly with soap and water, since the flu virus usually is spread by direct contact.
North Carolina officials say influenza cases have been reported across the state. In South Carolina, officials say the largest number of cases has come from coastal counties, especially Horry and Georgetown. But the problem has been spreading into the Midlands and Upstate areas.
The other states with “High” levels of flu, as of the most recent report late last week, were Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.