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Flu Deaths and Cases Climb Statewide, Only 71 Treated Locally as Season Nears its Most Dangerous Phase

By Tim Gardner

The total death toll in North Carolina is currently 23 this 2018-19 flu season, which is now entering its most active period, state health officials reported.

The flu season officially begins in October every year and typically runs through March 31, though it has lingered several weeks longer at times. It is generally most active during the coldest winter months of December through March, with the number of confirmed flu cases usually peaking in early-to mid-February each year.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services statistics reveals the number of flu deaths as part of a weekly update. Four deaths from an earlier period that were delayed in being reported are included in that total of 23.

The agency does not provide details, such as name of the deceased, age, gender or county of residence, to protect the privacy of the families affected.

According to the state health agency’s statistics, 18 of the victims were ages 65 and older, while three were in the 25-to-49 age group and two in the 50-to-64 age group. 12 of those who have died, or more than 55 percent, were known to be vaccinated against the flu.

Additionally, the NCDHHS reported the number of flu-like cases is increasing steadily across the state, reaching more than 2,500 so far this season.

However, locally, the flu has not been remotely as bad in 2018-19.

The Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, headquartered in Boone, reported 71 individuals have tested positive for the flu at their facilities this season. But only four have been hospitalized in an ARHS facility. These statistics were released on Wednesday by Vicki Stevens, the hospital system’s Marketing Director.

The Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, the leader for healthcare in the North Carolina High Country, is comprised of two hospitals and inpatient care facilities–Watauga Medical Center in Boone, Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville and The Foley Center at Chesnut Ridge in Blowing Rock. The hospital system also includes more than a dozen medical practices and a rehabilitation facility with a skilled nursing care wing.

No Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospital has imposed restrictions on visitors so far this flu season.

Part of the state’s way for measuring the presence of the flu is tracking positive test results for selected respiratory viruses on a weekly basis by public health epidemiologists located in seven of the largest hospital networks across North Carolina.

But state health officials have said that the death rate remains at the lower range of the scale for this time frame compared with the previous five flu seasons.

For the same time period, there were 92 deaths in the 2017-18 flu season, 19 deaths in 2016-17, one death in 2015-16, 134 deaths in 2014-15 and 38 deaths in 2013-14.

The 2017-18 flu season resulted in 391 total deaths, the highest number since 2009, the year that the state began tracking flu deaths.

Disease prevention centers and other health care professionals strongly recommend that all people age 6 months or older to get flu vaccinations.

Flu vaccines typically are available in doctor’s offices, health-care clinics, county health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as from many employers and schools. Individuals also can use the FluFinder at www.flu.nc.gov to find a clinic near them.

The shots typically are free for individuals with private insurance and Medicare and Medicaid recipients.

Doctors have maintained that most people can treat flu symptoms at home with fluids, rest and fever-reducing medicines. But, they have added that the flu can be deadly for very old or very young people or for those with health complications such as diabetes, asthma, obesity and heart disease as those with chronic health problems are much more susceptible to develop flu-related complications than a person generally in good health.

Additionally, pregnant women and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities also may have a high risk to become inflicted with the flu.

The Appalachian Regional Healthcare System lists the following precautions for visiting those hospitalized with the flu to protect its patients, as well as its visitors, from the spread of the dangerous infection.

Clean your hands before and after visiting

Scientists of America claim that clean hands can have a positive influence on people’s health. Wash with soap or sanitize your hands when entering and leaving the room of the person you are visiting to avoid bringing in and carrying out germs. Do not sit on patient beds or handle their equipment.

Check with nurses before you bring in food, send flowers or bring children-

While flowers, young visitors and home-baked dishes spread cheer, they may not be allowed in patient’s rooms, so check with hospital personnel first. Cut flowers, but not potted plants may be allowed in intensive care units. If you change the water in a vase of flowers, make sure to wash your hands afterwards.

No children under the age of 12 can visit in the Intensive Care Unit. Children elsewhere in the hospital should not disturb the other patients.

Bringing food to a flu patient is discouraged because the patient may be on a special diet or the food could spoil and make the patient sick. Half eaten food cannot be returned to the refrigerator and must be discarded.

Practice Cough Etiquette

Do not cough or sneeze into your hands. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue. Discard tissue in the trash immediately after use. Wash your hands or use an alcohol hand sanitizer. Read the mandates on a patient’s door who is hospitalized and obey those directives.

For Contact Precautions: you must wear gloves and a gown when entering the room to visit. And for Droplet or Airborne Precautions: you must wear a mask when entering a patient’s room.

Although you may have been around or live with a person inflicted with the flu, the hospitals must protect the other hospital patients and visitors. You can ask a nurse or other hospital personnel for any additional help.

Stay at home if you are sick

Do not visit a hospital patient if you are sick or have had any ill symptoms within the last three days including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, rash or uncontrolled cough.

Health care workers also urge keeping a 6-foot distance from anyone who’s coughing and is already diagnosed with the flu.