With flu season’s arrival, health officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services are encouraging residents to protect themselves, their families and other people around them by getting vaccinated against the flu.
“A flu vaccination is a simple, easy step that can help keep you healthy,” said State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Elizabeth Tilson, M.D., MPH. “In addition, getting vaccinated can not only protect you, but it can protect your family, loved ones, and others who may be at a higher risk of complications.”
During the 2017-18 flu season, 391 flu deaths were reported in North Carolina, the most reported during a flu season since adult flu deaths became reportable in the state in 2009. Of those 391 deaths, 290 were people age 65 and older and seven were children under the age of 18.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination against the flu for everyone 6 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 5, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or obesity.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics last year 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.