By Tim Gardner
Flu season is well underway, and many regions of the country, including North Carolina, are having elevated levels of the illness.
Influenza (the flu) has even reached near-epidemic levels in many parts of the United States. While not reaching such levels it’s still struck hard in North Carolina, including in Watauga and Avery counties,
According to Vicki Stevens, Director of Marketing for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, headquartered in Boone, there have been 33 flu cases treated at the Watauga Medical Center in Boone from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 and 29 cases at Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville during the same time span.
U.S. Government health officials say there have already been at least 4.6 million illnesses, more than 39,000 hospitalizations and 2,100 deaths from the flu nationwide for the 2019-2020 flu season, which officially began on Oct. 1, 2019 and runs through May 31, 2020.
In North Carolina, ten have died from flu-related deaths this season, according to state health officials.
So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most illnesses are the result of the influenza B/Victoria viruses, which the agency said is odd for this time of year. The next most-common virus in circulation is the A/H1N1, and it’s increasing in proportion relative to other influenza viruses in some regions.
The latest data from the agency — current as of the week ending Dec. 21 — shows that the virus is widespread in 39 states, including North Carolina. Regional activity was reported in nine states.
The geographic spread of flu activity does not measure the severity of the virus, but seasonal influenza activity throughout the nation has now been elevated for two months.
The CDC’s surveillance of influenza-like-illness measures the level of flu activity within a state. According to the latest data, flu activity is high in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, New York City and 25 states, including North Carolina. Moderate activity was reported in six states, nine states had low activity, while six states had minimal activity. Data were insufficient to calculate an activity level in Alaska, Florida, Idaho and North Dakota.
Influenza (flu) is a serious disease and can lead to hospitalization and death. The groups most at risk are older adults, very young children, pregnant women and those with certain chronic medical conditions, according to the CDC.
Recognizable flu symptoms include: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, headache, diarrhea and vomiting. But anyone who thinks he or she or a family member may have the flu and are experiencing more severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion and/or severe or persistent vomiting should seek immediate emergency care.
Fortunately, most people recover from flu after about a week or two without lasting effects.
Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu typically are reserved for use on patients whose age or underlying conditions – such as respiratory illness or heart trouble – put them at risk of serious complications from the virus. That means patients with no other problems may be sent home with a recommendation for plenty of rest and over-the-counter medicines.
Flu complications can lead to pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus infections, as well as exacerbations of asthma and congestive heart disease. Pneumonia happens when fluids accumulate in the lungs and interfere with a patient’s ability to breathe. If severe enough, like the flu, pneumonia can lead to death.
But almost half the children who die from the flu have no known medical condition that puts them at higher risk. Every year, about 100 children die from the flu nationwide, according to national pediatric statistics.
Medical experts urge flu vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older who haven’t already received the shot. Even though vaccinations are never 100 percent effective, they greatly reduce the risk of anyone who takes a flu shot from getting the disease and the flu spreading. Some people can carry the infection without showing symptoms, so they don’t know they are transmitting the virus.
Doctors also recommend injections over nasal sprays because of higher effectiveness, and to wear face masks and use hand sanitizers liberally to help halt the flu from spreading.
Many health care treatment facilities also have recommended that only immediate family and no young children be allowed to visit those hospitalized until the level of flu cases decrease. And all area hospitals are asking anyone showing symptoms of the flu or respiratory illness to stay away from visiting patients.