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Citizens urged to take precautions against flu

Friday, December 6, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

If you have the flu, you probably think this flu season is worse than usual. But so far, that’s not the case.

The percentage of visits to emergency rooms and primary care providers of people with influenza-like activity “right now is basically normal,” said Sharon Ortiz-Garcia, district epidemiologist.

In Virginia’s southwest region, which includes Henry County and Martinsville, slightly more than 1.5 percent of all visits to emergency rooms and primary care providers were people with influenza-like illnesses as of last week, said Ortiz-Garcia, of the West Piedmont Health District.

So far, there have been no flu deaths in Virginia since flu season started the first week of October, she said. Flu season runs through around the last week of May, but “we do active surveillance all year long,” she said.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on Tuesday announced the state’s first three adult deaths linked to infection with seasonal influenza.

A DHHS news release said the patients were from Eastern North Carolina, the Triad region and the Charlotte area. All three patients were middle-aged adults who were at increased risk for complications due to underlying medical conditions.

According to the Virginia Department of Health website, everyone 6 months of age and older is recommended to receive an influenza vaccination each year. Depending on the vaccine types available to you, the 2013-2014 vaccine will protect against either three or four influenza viruses.

Vaccination is especially important for certain people who are at “high risk” of serious complications from seasonal flu. They include adults aged 65 and older, children younger than 5 years, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, according to the VDH website.

In addition, people who live with or care for people who are at increased risk of developing serious complications should be vaccinated. This includes household contacts and caregivers of young children (especially infants younger than 6 months) and people with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease, according to VDH.

According to Ortiz-Garcia and the VDH website, two types of flu vaccines are available. The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine, which means it is made with killed virus. It usually is given in the arm and is approved for use in people 6 months of age or older, including healthy people and those with chronic medical conditions.

The second type is the nasal-spray flu vaccine, which is made with live, weakened flu viruses. The nasal-spray vaccine is approved for use in healthy people aged 2 through 49 years who are not pregnant.

Ortiz-Garcia said it’s “a common misconception” that the flu shot can cause the flu, but it has been scientifically proven that it can’t. “It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to create immunity,” she said. If someone attributes getting the flu to having a shot, the person probably had been exposed to the virus before getting the shot.

The nasal spray flu vaccine also cannot cause the flu, she said.

The flu vaccine gives immunization up to a year, so people should be vaccinated every year, she said.

Ortiz-Garcia and the VDH website also recommend using antiviral drugs recommended by your doctor and keeping your environment clean by such things as cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces.

Ortiz-Garcia said last year, flu cases peaked in December, but usually they peak in January and February. The reason for the peak in December 2012 could not be determined, but it was suspected that people got vaccinated a little later in the season, she said.

The local health department gives a limited number of vaccines at a walk-in clinic from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursdays and by appointment at clinics on Mondays. Call 638-2311 for more information.

In addition to the health department, flu vaccines are available at primary care providers and local pharmacies, Ortiz-Garcia said.

 

 
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