WILSON — In the depths of winter, just as it does every year, cold and flu season creeps upon us — and this year has been particularly deadly for N.C. Last week alone, the flu claimed 21 lives in this state.
“The flu has always been bad,” said Dr. Alicia Lagasca, with East Carolina University’s Infectious Diseases. “Flu can cause a person, who is otherwise healthy, such as someone from the age of 20 to 30 in college, winding up on a breathing machine in the hospital.”
Many people confuse the symptoms of the flu with that of a cold. Flu symptoms are similar to the common cold and include a runny nose, sore throat and cough. The flu also adds a high fever and body aches to the mix.
“The flu is much more severe and you basically feel like you can’t get out of bed,” added Lagasca. “Something that’s gone around the community — that the flu is a stomach bug — but you can get (gastrointestinal) symptoms with the flu but it is predominantly a respiratory illness.”
The flu season runs between October and February.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, there have been 67 reported deaths in N.C. Across the nation, 37 children have died of the flu this year. The flu can be a serious illness, especially for adults older than 65, children younger than 5, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
Health officials encourage citizens to be vaccinated.
DHHS encourages vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older. Pharmacies, doctor’s offices, health centers and hospitals are all offering the flu vaccine. Depending upon where you receive your shot, the cost can range from free to at most $50.
“Even though flu season is up and full blown, it’s still important to get your flu vaccine because there are still cases and you’re going to be protected within two weeks of getting that vaccine. We’re still encouraging everyone to get the flu vaccine,” said Lagasca.
Many people question the effectiveness of a flu shot and whether to forgo the vaccination.
“There has been some stir that the vaccine doesn’t work anymore. The CDC has analyzed our current strain that’s circulating and the strain in the vaccine, and it’s similar,” said Lagasca. “If you haven’t already gotten your flu shot, get your flu shot now.”
People who have flu symptoms should contact their doctor immediately. Doctors can determine if the patient needs treatment with a prescription antiviral drug such as Tamiflu. According to DHHS, early treatment with an antiviral drug can help prevent flu infections from becoming more serious.
Treatment with a prescription antiviral drug, such as Tamiflu, is especially important for hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness and people who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health.
It’s important to be proactive in fighting the flu, preventing the flu and preventing the spread of the sickness. Precautions people can take to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses include:
- Staying home when sick until fever-free for at least 24 hours
- Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discarding the tissue promptly
- Washing hands frequently, preferably with soap and water
- Frequently using sanitizer wipes to clean surfaces in schools and work, or equipment in the gym before and after use
During most flu seasons, senior citizens have suffered the most, followed by young children. This year; however, baby boomers, or those aged 50-64, have been grappling the hardest with the flu after the senior population.
“Baby boomers have higher rates (of hospitalization) than their grandchildren right now,” said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He said influenza activity had begun to taper off in some parts of the United States, particularly in states on the West Coast, but the season was far from over.
Flu activity “remains high for most of the U.S., while some areas are still writhing,” he said.