By Jesse Wood
Jan. 6, 2015. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health held a press conference this afternoon to discuss the current flu epidemic in the state, where 17 people have died, including nine of those deaths being reported during the week of Christmas.
This press conference comes a week after the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System urged community members with the flu or flu-like symptoms to avoid visiting family and friends in the hospital. ARHS also requested children under the age of 12, whether they have the flu or not, to refrain from visitations as well.
The Centers for Disease Control has documented that every state in the U.S. has some of level of flu activity from sporadic to widespread illness with North Carolina in the later category.
Since late November, the percentage of visits to hospital emergency departments and outpatient clinics in North Carolina for influenza-like illnesses has jumped from 2 and 4 percent to 10 and 11 percent by the end of December, according to figures from the N.C. DHHS that are tabulated from participating agencies in the Influenza-Like Illness Network. This is compared to nearly 6 percent for the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control.
Dr. Zack Moore, a medical epidemiologist in the Communicable Disease Branch with the N.C. DHHS told the media on Tuesday that the seasonal flu is more widespread and intense than in previous years. He noted that the main strain was H3N2, which is likely to affect children and seniors more so than other populations.
The Center for Disease Control noted the severity of this strain on younger and older populations: “H3N2-predominant seasons have been associated with more severe illness and mortality, especially in older people and young children, relative to seasons during which H1N1 or B viruses predominated. There are early indications that this season may be severe, especially for people aged 65 years and older and young children.”
Moore added that children running a fever should avoid school and not return to class until fever free for at least 24 hours, and Dr. Megan Davies, chief of the Epidemiology Section in the N.C. DHHS, stressed that voluntary hospital visitation restrictions such as the one implemented by ARHS shouldn’t deter people with illnesses from going to the hospital.
Last week, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System noted the uptick in the number of people arriving at the emergency rooms, physician offices and AppUrgent Care with flu-like symptoms
“Patients are very vulnerable while in the hospital, so we are appealing to those community members who may be ill with the flu, or exposed to the flu, to refrain from visiting hospitalized family and friends in order to help us protect the patients in our facilities,” ARHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Herman Godwin. “Our top priority is to take every appropriate precaution to keep our patients safe.”
The flu is dominantly spread through coughing or sneezing. A person may come in contact with another infected person and touch their eyes, nose and mouth. Preventative measures are the best-case scenario in avoiding catching or spreading the flu.
ARHS lists preventative measures and symptoms below:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not into your hands.
- If you get sick with flu, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from making them sick.
- Get the recommended seasonal flu vaccine.
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Most people recover from flu after about a week without lasting effects.
- Seek emergency medical care if you or a family member has any of these symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and worsening cough
- In babies, bluish or gray skin color, lack of responsiveness or extreme irritation