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Flu On the Rise in NC; App Regional Healthcare System Limiting Visitations

By Sherrie Norris

As we near the peak of the 2018-19 flu season, the NC Department of Health and Human Services confirmed this week that flu is becoming more widespread throughout the state, and our local healthcare system is limiting visitors.

According to the NC DHHS, six influenza-associated deaths were reported during the week ending Feb. 2, bringing the total number of influenza-associated deaths reported so far this season to 35.

This does not represent all flu-associated deaths in the state, since many go undiagnosed or unreported.  

Although vaccination early in the season is preferred, it is never too late to get vaccinated and help protect yourself and others from the spread of this dangerous, sometimes deadly virus.

In light of this information, and the fact that heightened flu cases have been reported in and around the High Country region, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System has issued a statement regarding its efforts to decrease the spread of the virus.

As of Monday, February 4, ARHS began restricting visits at each of its locations, including Watauga Medical Center in Boone, Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville and The Foley Center, between Boone and Blowing Rock.

The healthcare system is asking that people under age 18 — as well as those who are sick or have been exposed to respiratory illness — to refrain from visiting friends or family.

The statement indicated the system’s knowledge that limiting visitation is an inconvenience for families with patients in the hospital. “However, it is vital that we take every precaution to protect our patients, staff and visitors.”

The statement added that the medical team may make exceptions on a case-by-case basis for siblings of newborn babies and families of hospice or end of life patients. Also, that the ARHS infection control specialists will continue to monitor influenza activity with the local health department and will assess when restrictions can be lifted.

Additionally, the following suggestions were shared to help individuals know what to do when visits are necessary:

  • Ensure that you are healthy — free from fever, cough, colds or stomach virus symptoms.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Visitors may be asked to wear protective clothing or a mask in certain areas.

Also included are tips and information to help individuals avoid the flu, with a reminder that flu viruses spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing. “Sometimes an individual may catch flu by touching an object infected with the virus and then touching the eyes, mouth, or nose.”

Listed below are several things you can do to prevent catching or spreading the flu:

  • 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.

Recognizable flu symptoms of which to be aware:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

One should seek emergency medical care if he/she 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
  • Confusion
  • 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

“Flu will be circulating, and infection rates will likely remain high at least for the next several weeks,” said State Epidemiologist Zack Moore. “Getting vaccinated now is the best way to protect yourself and those you come in contact with.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination against the flu for everyone 6 months and older. In addition to reducing the risk of infection, vaccination against the flu can make illness milder for those who do get sick and reduces the risk of more serious outcomes. Flu vaccinations are available at hospitals, pharmacies, private medical offices, some federally qualified health care centers and local health departments.

The number of flu-associated deaths reported in North Carolina since 2009 has varied from nine during the 2011–2012 season to 391 during the 2017–2018 season. This serves as a reminder that flu can be a serious illness, especially for adults over age 65, children under five, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

Anyone who thinks they have the flu should contact their doctor right away to see if they need treatment with a prescription antiviral drug, such as Tamiflu. Early treatment with an antiviral drug can help prevent flu infections from becoming more serious. Treatment with a prescription antiviral drug is especially important for hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness and those who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, as are other healthcare facilities around the state, is working diligently to prevent the spread of flu and appreciates any assistance the public can provide.

For more information, including weekly updates on flu surveillance data and to find out where you can get a flu vaccination in your community, visit www.flu.nc.gov.