State continues to see rise in flu cases

Jan. 02, 2013 @ 10:57 AM

North Carolina has seen its highest level of flu activity in nearly a decade.

In December, the state reported 9 percent of the population was hit with the influenza virus.

Rhonda Lovelace, immunization coordinator at the Rutherford County Health Department, said that while the flu is not a reportable disease, the county continues to see flu cases.

"I know that we are still seeing flu cases and we do have the vaccine available," Lovelace said. "It is available for anyone."

State Health Director Laura Gerald said that the state has had 12 flu-related deaths reported in North Carolina.

“It is very unusual for us to see this many deaths so early in the flu season,” Gerald said, in a statement. “This year’s vaccine is well-matched to the strains of flu we are seeing in North Carolina so we strongly recommend that anyone over 6 months old be vaccinated.”

Lovelace said that the state is currently offering the flu vaccine for anyone at no charge. She added that there is no way to tell just how many people in Rutherford County have been affected by the virus.

The state said that flu outbreaks have been reported in schools and long-term care facilities across the state. Although everyone is at risk, flu can be especially dangerous for people at high risk of complications, including pregnant women, people with chronic diseases, very young children and the elderly.

Because it takes about two weeks for immunity to develop after vaccination, Gerald said that getting an immunization between now and the start of the New Year should provide protection when individuals go back to work or school.

"School being out may help to die it down a little bit, but with the holiday and everyone spending time together can increase the cases," Lovelace said.

The issue for Rutherford County is the fact that it is not known whether the county has peaked in its number of those affected by the flu.

"We hope that it has come early and we have already peaked, but we really don't know," Lovelace said.

Gerald said that the flu vaccine is the safest and most effective way to protect against flu and is recommended for anyone over 6 months old. In addition to vaccination. Lovelace said there are some precautions that people can do to avoid spreading cold and flu to others:

• stay home when you are sick;

• wash your hands regularly with soap and water;

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

To receive additional information about obtaining the flu vaccine, you can contact the Rutherford County Heath Department at 828-287-6101.