2017-11-11 / Front Page

Flu season brings first two deaths

BY BILL WILLCOX
COURIER-TIMES STAFF WRITER

Person County Health Director Janet Clayton said this week that influenza activity has become “sporadic” in North Carolina.

State health officials reported last week that two people died from flu in October, the first deaths this season in North Carolina.

“The number of confirmed cases in North Carolina is about the same as last year at this time,” Clayton said.

One of the deaths occurred in the Piedmont region, and the other occurred in the eastern part of the state, according to the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS). To protect the privacy of the families, neither person’s hometown, county, age or gender were released. Clayton said the Piedmont region victim did not live in Person County.

Health officials did confirm both victims were 65 or older.

Clayton did report some good news. She said the region that includes Person County has shown a decline in recent weeks in the number of people presenting with influenza-like illness.

She said the predominant virus circulating this season is the influenza A (H3) virus.

Last flu season was the deadliest in the state since DHHS began providing victim totals in 2008, with 219 confirmed deaths, up sharply from 59 the season before. There were 151 reported deaths of people 65 and older, 42 in the 55-to-64 age group, 16 in the 25-54 age group, six in the 5-17 age groups, two in the 18-24 age group, and two in the birth-4 age group.

The season was also unusual because of a late spike in flu cases in late February and early March, after the typical peak season, and another spike in April. The worst week was the one ending March 11, with 32 deaths.

SHOTS AVAILABLE

The Person County Health Department provides influenza shots to the public on a walk-in basis Monday through Friday from 8-11:30 a.m. and from 1-4 p.m. The Health Department is located in the Person County Human Services Building, 355-A South Madison Boulevard. The Health Department accepts Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Coventry, Health Choice, Medicare, Medicaid, MedCost, and United Healthcare insurances; individuals covered by these insurances must bring their insurance cards with them. The flu immunization is free for uninsured children who are 6 months to 18 years of age. There will be a $30 charge for all others.

The PCHD encourages everyone six months and older to be immunized against seasonal flu.

Nationwide, health officials are bracing for a potentially severe flu season. The reason is that the Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia, was hit hard over the past few months with a flu strain, the H3N2 strain, that is known to cause severe illness, especially in seniors.

Already in the U.S., including North Carolina, small clusters of this strain are popping up.

Flu infections are most common from late fall to early spring in North Carolina, with peak activity usually occurring in January or February. For the second year in a row, the Centers for Disease and Prevention is recommending the injectable vaccine instead of the nasal spray because of concerns about the spray’s effectiveness.

According to studies cited by the CDC, vaccination against the flu can:

• Protect people who are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from flu, like older adults, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions (including obesity) and young children.

• Make illness milder and reduce the risk of more serious outcomes.

• Protect pregnant women and their developing babies.

People should take the following precautions to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses:

• Stay home when sick until fever-free for at least 24 hours.

• Wash hands frequently, preferably with soap and water.

• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly.

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