This flu season has the potential to be the worst since the 2003-2004 season, health officials say and while a number of Edgecombe County residents have presented with “flu-like symptoms,” the county health department has not yet had any confirmed cases, said health department public information officer Michelle Etheridge.
Right after Thanksgiving, patients started coming into Vidant Edgecombe Hospital’s emergency department with upper respiratory symptoms, said Libbe Sasser, infection preventionist for the facility.
“We’re starting to see it so early. We typically peak the end of January, the first part of February,” she said.
The population impacted the most by the flu-like symptoms thus far is young children.
“The majority have been between 4- and 10-years-old,” Sasser said.
Children under the age of 5 and adults 65 and over are most likely to have serious bout of the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.
“Rest, exercise, healthy diet, getting your flu shot” are some of Etheridge’s recommendations to reduce your risk of getting the flu.
“We have several hundred doses [of the vaccine]. It’s free of charge. It’s on a walk-in basis,” she said. Etheridge said October is the prime time to get the flu shot to stay protected for the entire season,
“Generally, the flu shot lasts for about six months. People present with the flu all the way into April,” Etheridge said. After getting the flu shot, it takes about two weeks to build up the antibodies to offer full protection against the virus, according to the CDC.
Sasser urged pregnant women, a high-risk population, to get vaccinated. Along with the health department, the Tarboro Clinic, Rite-Aid Pharmacy and the office of Dr. Thomas Gennoso on St. John Street are offering the vaccine. The Tarboro Clinic offers the vaccine on a walk-in basis to patients, who have the option of self-pay or filing with their health insurance. Gennoso’s office offers the vaccine to non-patients for a $25 fee, on a walk-in basis. Before stopping by, call the office at 823-4300.
The main strain of the flu identified this season in North Carolina is Influenza A. That’s the same strain of the flu as in 2003-2004, which also started early, and caused 48,000 deaths nationwide, according an Associated Press story. The good news, according to the CDC, is that unlike 2003-2004, the strains of flu emerging are a good match for the vaccine. The AP story stated that the CDC estimated 112 million Americans, or more than one-third of the population, have been vaccinated at this point.
Common-sense measures, such as hand washing, can help prevent the spread of the flu.
“Keep your hands away from your ear, your nose and your mouth. Always wash your hands before you eat,” Sasser said. “If you use a tissue, throw it away. Don’t reuse it.”
Above all, “stay home if you are sick,” Sasser said. “Don’t go to work if you’ve got the cough and the fever and the body aches because you’re just going to spread it to everybody else.” She also advised people not to visit the hospital if they have flu-like symptoms. The hospital has masks available at every entrance to control the spread of infection.
Unlike Edgecombe County, North Carolina is reporting increasing flu activity. Cases of the flu have skyrocketed in five southern states — Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Schools in three Tennessee counties have been closed because of the flu.