RALEIGH — Health officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services are encouraging North Carolina residents to protect themselves, their families and other people around them by getting vaccinated against Influenza as the state enters flu season.
“Flu can be a serious, sometimes deadly, disease. Getting vaccinated against the flu is the best step you can take to keep you and your children healthy and at work and in school,” said State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Elizabeth Tilson in a statement. “Getting vaccinated also protects others who may be at a higher risk of complications from flu.”
Weekly updates on flu surveillance data are posted online at flu.ncdhhs.gov. The flu report will be posted every Thursday throughout the flu season with updated data from around the state on flu activity and other viral respiratory illnesses.
The department announced Oct. 24 the first reported flu-related death of the 2019-20 flu season, which occurred the first week of October and involved an adult in the central part of the state. To protect the privacy of the family, the person’s hometown, county, age and gender were not released.
“We are very saddened by this death and send condolences to the loved ones of this person,” said State Epidemiologist Zack Moore in a statement. “Flu is a serious illness and in some cases can lead to complications and even result in death, which is why we strongly encourage people to get vaccinated every year.”
During the 2018-19 flu season, 208 flu deaths were reported in North Carolina. Of those 208 deaths, 133 were people age 65 and older and five were children under the age of 18.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination against the flu for everyone six months and older with any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine. Vaccination against the flu can make illness milder and reduce the risk of more serious outcomes, making it especially important for those at higher risk of complications, such as people over 65, children younger than five, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or obesity.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2017 showed that flu vaccination significantly reduced a child’s risk of dying from the flu. The study, which looked at data from four flu seasons from 2010-2014, found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by half among children with underlying, high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds among healthy children.
Flu vaccinations are available at hospitals, pharmacies, private medical offices, some federally qualified health care centers and local health departments.
In North Carolina, flu infections are most common from late fall to early spring with activity usually peaking in January or February. The following precautions should be taken 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.
Anyone who thinks they have the flu should contact their doctor right away to see if they need treatment with a prescription antiviral drug, such as Tamiflu. Early treatment with an antiviral drug can help prevent flu infections from becoming more serious. Treatment with a prescription antiviral drug is especially important for hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness and those who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health.
More information about flu is available online through the Division of Public Health and from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/flu.