Flu Season

Published 12:43 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2018

With all the cold weather we have been experiencing lately, people are spending more and more time indoors. This is one of the main reasons we usually see an uptick in flu cases during the winter months. The flu virus circulates at a low level throughout the year, but it usually pops up in higher numbers when the right conditions arise. One way the flu virus is spread is when an infected person coughs or sneezes and the virus becomes airborne, where it then hangs in the air until it is breathed in by a healthy individual. When more people are indoors due to cold weather, the greater the chance you could breathe in virus particles, develop an infection, pass it along to another person, and so on.

This year we are seeing an uptick in flu cases a little earlier then usual. Peak flu season is in February, but North Carolina has been seeing slightly higher levels of influenza-like illnesses since the beginning of October. North Carolina has recorded 20 deaths from flu so far this year, and seven in the last week in December, double the previously weekly high of the season. In the last two weeks, two children have died in the state from flu-like illnesses. In most cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that half of all children that die of flu have no known medical conditions that put them at higher risk for complications. Each season, there are several strains of flu virus that emerge (H1N1, Influenza B, etc.) This year, we have seen a higher number of the H3N2 flu virus, which hits especially hard in people age 65 and older.

Flu cases tend to begin to rise in October, have small spikes around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then hit a peak in late February. Last year, flu cases rose in late December, dropped for a few weeks, and rapidly increased in the last week of February. There were almost twice as many cases last February as there were a year before. This year, we saw an early rise in cases around Thanksgiving, a short leveling off period, and now an increase to slightly higher than the end of the December peak that we saw last year. This could indicate that we could see an even higher number of cases this February as we saw in early 2017.

Since the incidence of flu cases is expected to increase this year, getting vaccinated is extremely important and highly recommended. The more people that have received the vaccine, the less chance there is that you could catch the virus, and in turn prevent someone from catching it from you. Each year, vaccine suppliers have to guess which strain will be the most prevalent, so they can produce enough vaccine in time for the start of the flu season. Even if a vaccine is only effective against 50-60% of flu strains, you are still protecting yourself and your family from the virus. This prevents illness and hospitalizations as the flu season progresses.

There is still time to get the vaccine to make sure you are protected from the high flu season in February. The Martin-Tyrrell-Washington District Health Department provides walk-in appointments for vaccinations at all of our clinics. We take Medicare, Medicaid, and most forms of insurance. If you are a self-pay patient, shots are $35 dollars. If you experience flu-like symptoms (fever above 100 degrees, cough, sore throat, chills, fatigue, or nausea), contact your provider or the health department at 252-793-1750.