Flu activity across North Carolina is at the highest levels recorded in the past decade, according to State Health Director Laura Gerald.
Twelve flu-related deaths already have been reported in North Carolina.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging all North Carolinians to take time out of their holiday activities to get their annual flu vaccination.
“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. The flu season in the United States got off to its earliest start in nearly a decade, and the effects have been felt in neighboring Moore County.
“The flu activity we’re seeing at Moore Regional, as well as at FirstHealth’s other hospitals, mirrors what the state is reporting,” said Emily Sloan, assistant director of public relations for FirstHealth of the Carolinas, in a story earlier this month. “Flu rates typically start to increase in January, so we’re seeing a rise about a month earlier than previous years.”
FirstHealth announced Dec. 11 that it was imposing visitor restrictions at Moore Regional, Montgomery Memorial in Troy, and Richmond Memorial in Rockingham:
• Visitors are limited to immediate family.
• No children younger than 12 are allowed to visit.
• No one with flu-like symptoms is allowed to visit.
Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also suffer vomiting and diarrhea.
FirstHealth announced last month that its employees had until the end of the year to get a flu vaccine or be fired.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the primary flu strain circulating this year tends to make people sicker than with other types, and it is particularly hard on the elderly.
Although everyone is at risk, flu can be especially dangerous for people at high risk of complications, including pregnant women, people with chronic diseases, very young children and the elderly.
Because it takes about two weeks for immunity to develop after vaccination, getting an immunization between now and the start of the New Year should provide protection when individuals go back to work or school.
Flu vaccine is the safest and most effective way to protect against flu and is recommended for anyone older than 6 months old, a news release from the state said. In addition to vaccination, Gerald recommends that everyone follow additional precautions to avoid spreading cold and flu to others:
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly.
State-supplied flu vaccine is available at no charge from most local health departments and many providers, as well as local pharmacies.