Health care officials prepare for flu season peak

CDC recommends everyone to get a vaccine as flu is on the rise

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Bryan Reyes Vargas braces for a flu shot

RALEIGH — The flu is on the rise, and health officials are encouraging community members to get a vaccine.As of Feb. 10, 22 people have died from the flu this season, which began Oct. 2 and will end in May. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the flu season has not yet peaked.”It’s almost up to where it was [last year] and it will probably go higher based off what we’re seeing here, what we’re seeing in the community illness-wise,” JoAnn Douglas, the immunization tracking team supervisor for Department of Health and Human Services, said.Douglas said there is good news, though.”The CDC is saying that the vaccine is a good match to the strands that are circulating,” Douglas said.The flu mist is not available this year because of its lack of effectiveness.”That’s a big loss for us, because it’s easier to get the children and even some needle-phobic people to take the flu mist,” Douglas said.She said DHHS will look at the impact of not having the flu mist after the season, but are expecting its return next year.Douglas encourages everyone to get the flu vaccine, especially because the vaccine is available for everyone — uninsured, under-insured or insured. She said anyone who walks into their clinic receives a flu vaccine, unless they decline it.”The CDC recommends all people get the flu vaccine, especially people that have immune compromise, maybe a chronic illness, pregnant women, children, people who care for children and people who care for those that are ill,” Douglas said. “Especially healthy people, because you can spread flu disease when you have it.””If you are vaccinated, you are also protecting your family, your children, your co-workers. It reduces the instances of illness, which reduces loss of work day, absenteeism from school. It’s a good tried and true method of preventing illness. This year the strands are a good match.”If you are beginning to feel sick or around others with flu-like symptoms, Douglas recommends going to the doctors and trying to eliminate the spread of germs.”If you’re sick, go to the doctors,” she said. “Practice good hand washing. Don’t touch your face and mouth. Wash your hands all the time. Cover your coughs and sneezes. All those things that they tell you when you’re a kid, it really does work.”In a few cases this year, the flu has resulted in death, including a child from western North Carolina.”If there is any positive to come from this tragedy, we hope it will be that people understand even though flu is a very common virus, it can cause serious and even deadly infections in some people,” Dr. Zack Moore, the acting state epidemiologist, said.”Flu vaccination is the most effective protection against flu,” Moore said. “There is still time to protect yourself and your loved ones.”Douglas said getting the flu vaccine is about promoting the health of the community.”It’s about protecting yourself and protecting your family,” Douglas said. “I think that it sends the wrong message you’re trying to prevent death, but what you’re trying to do is promote health. To do that just a simple shot in the arm for the whole season. I think that’s a better message. That’s what our health educators try to promote.”