By Paul T. Choate
Jan. 8, 2013. It’s the height of flu season and, although hard numbers are not available due to influenza not being a reportable disease, evidence suggests this year’s outbreak is one of the worst in the past several years. During flu season it is important to practice good hygiene and it’s not too late to go get that flu shot.
“This is the earliest onset we’ve seen in about 10 years,” said Mark Van Sciver, NC Department of Health and Human Services public information officer. He added that the flu shot is perfectly set up this season to address the three major strains of the flu and that it is essential for people to get the shot if they have not already.
Due to so many illnesses mimicking the symptoms of the flu, Van Sciver said there is no way to know for sure exactly how many people have it at any given time.
“There are flu and there are other viruses that look like flu,” Van Sciver said. “People say ‘I had the flu’ and they may have had a 24-hour virus and said it was flu.”
One hard number is available though. As of the most recent report from the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), 14 North Carolinians have been killed by the flu during this flu season. This is already more than during all of the 2011-2012 flu season, when the virus claimed nine North Carolinians’ lives.
The current activity estimate of the flu in North Carolina is listed as “sporadic” by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of Dec. 31. However, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 30, the CDC listed activity in North Carolina as “widespread.”
Candy Gambill, Appalachian District Health Department communicable disease and preparedness coordinator, said she has noticed a seemingly worse outbreak this year than in years past here in the High Country based on people visiting the emergency room, urgent care and the health department.
“We have had a larger increase in influenza like cases and flu this year than in the last several years. That’s seen across the state and regionally,” Gambill said.
Gambill also said that she has noticed a difference in what the CDC has advised regarding the flu shot and who should receive it.
“Each year the CDC has given a different recommendation for who got the flu shot. Now, it’s basically anybody should get a flu shot and you can get it at any time. It’s never too late,” she said.
The flu shot is available at several local pharmacies and also at the Watauga County Health Department, located at 126 Poplar Grove Connector in Boone. The vaccine does not expire until June 30, so there is plenty of time to go get the shot throughout the remainder of the flu season.
Van Sciver summed up why getting the shot is so important, saying, “For every one [flu case] you know about, there are probably 20 you don’t.”
For more information on getting your flu shot, call 828-264-4995 in Watauga County or 828-733-6031 in Avery County.