Flu season starts early, ‘nasty year’ predicted

Published 12:29 am Sunday, December 16, 2012

WHO SHOULD GET VACCINATED: Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year. This recommendation has been in place since Feb. 24, 2010, when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the U.S. to expand protection against the flu to more people. While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, experts say, it’s especially important that certain people get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications.

The 2012-2013 influenza season began early and is widespread in some areas of the United States, including North Carolina, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re just off to a little bit sooner start than normal.  The viruses that we are seeing, that are circulating, are matched well with our vaccine, which is good,” said Tom Skinner, CDC’s spokesman for influenza matters. “You can’t really predict how severe our season may or may not be. It’s just something that we just have to wait and see play out.”
Skinner urges anyone who has not yet been vaccinated against the flu to do so as soon as possible.
“We want people to go out and get vaccinated if they have not gotten vaccinated. It’s not too late. We’re not hearing of any problems out there with people not being able to get vaccines,” Skinner said.
“We usually don’t get a lot of cases until February, January. I’ve already seen several (cases) today,” said Dr. Fred Teixeira with Vidant Internal Medicine-Washington on Friday. “It looks to be more severe. It’s going to be a nasty year.”
Teixeira said the answer to fighting the flu is simple.
“Got to get vaccinated. It’s not too late. You haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated,” he said. “Get vaccinated that’s the key.”
Although CDC does not track flu-related deaths, Skinner said, it is aware that about five children have died because of the flu so far this flu season, he said.
“In an average flu season, we can have thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of people hospitalized due to the flu,” Skinner said.
There have been three flu-related deaths in North Carolina this flu season, according to CDC’s website.
Some North Carolina hospitals have put stricter rules in place to govern visits to their patients in efforts to reduce exposure of patients and staff to the flu. Some of those restrictions include limiting visits to immediate family, children under age 12 are not allowed to visit and no one with flu-like symptoms are allowed to visit patients.
Carol Kinnion, director of nursing for the Beaufort County Health Department, said the county is experiencing an increase in flu cases.
“We are seeing in Beaufort County, as we are state-wide, seeing increased numbers of flu and flu-related illness through emergency departments, through the physicians’ practices,” Kinnion said.
She also recommends people get vaccinated as soon as possible if they have not been vaccinated this flu season.
Kinnion echoed Skinner’s statement about this season’s flu strains matching up well with this season’s flu vaccines. Kinnion said those matches are occurring about 88 percent this flu season.
In Beaufort County’s public schools in recent weeks, almost all student-related absences are flu-related, said Sarah Hodges, public information officer with Beaufort County Schools. Teachers also are missing school because of the flu, she said.
“Some schools are even having trouble finding enough (substitute teachers) on occasion,” Hodges said.
Hodges said she compared absentee rates at individual schools for three consecutive Mondays: Nov. 26, Dec. 3 and Dec. 10.
“You can see it’s going up a little bit. Some schools have spiked and already come back down. We have some that have been hit harder than others, or it could be where we know about these,” Hodges said.
A random sampling from the information collected by Hodges shows Bath Elementary School had 22 students absent Nov. 26, 32 student absences Dec. 3 and 46 student absences Dec. 10. At Washington High School, 33 students were absent Nov. 26, 61 students were absent Dec. 3 and 79 students were absent Dec. 10.
System-wide, 406 students were absent Nov. 26, 441 students were absent Dec. 3 and 505 students were absent Dec. 10.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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