The person next to you coughs and you feel your body tense. “Oh no. Wonder if they have the flu?” Such reactions are the norm this flu season, which is already worse than last year’s relatively mild season. Flu activity started earlier than usual and positive cases are on the increase with the flu already claiming two lives in North Carolina.
Amber Cava, director of marketing and community relations for Sampson Regional Medical Center, says that they have seen widespread influenza activity. “Since Dec. 12, we have had 70 positive flu cases in the ER, and Clinton Urgent Care has also seen around 70 positive flu cases in the past couple of weeks.”
Fortunately, “98 percent of the positive flu cases are Strain A influenza, which is a component of this year’s vaccine, so if you have had the vaccine you’re very well protected,” stresses Cava.
“Most of the cases we’ve seen in the ER were people who had not had the vaccine,” explains Cava. “It’s still not too late to get it, but remember that it does take two to three weeks to be fully effective.”
“The number one thing you can do is get the flu shot; it’s not too late and it is important to do because January is expected to be worse,” echoes Cathy Johnson with the Sampson County Health Department. “The flu shot will not necessarily keep you from getting the flu but it lessens your chances, and if you do get the flu, having the shot will make it much milder since the vaccine has already built up immunity in your body.”
In addition to getting the vaccine, Laurie Smith, RN, director of the ER at Sampson Regional Medical Center, is strongly encouraging frequent hand washing and wearing masks if you are sick. “We’re asking everyone who comes into the ER to wear a mask if they think they have the flu. Those visiting people in the hospital also need to wear a mask if they have respiratory problems like a cough,” adds Cava.
Also, “please stay at home if you have the flu or think you have it. Don’t go out in public,” stresses Johnson.
Special attention and care needs to be given to children during the winter months since schools are a hot spot for flu activity.
Kimberly Jackson, head nurse for Sampson County Schools, says that they have seen multiple flu cases so far this year but they are doing all they can to slow its spread. “Our biggest focus is prevention. We’re really emphasizing hand washing and just stepping up our cleaning,” says Jackson.
“We’re also making sure that children who exhibit signs of the flu, like fever or nausea, are immediately sent home,” says Jackson. “But it is hard to know for sure if a child really has the flu or not because there have been some viruses going around as well.”
Jackson encourages parents to take their children to the doctor if they suspect the flu. “The only way to know for sure is to go to the doctor and get tested.” She adds that if a child has a fever for more than 24 hours and is not drinking then medical attention should be sought immediately, especially if the child has another health issue such as asthma.
Flu shots are still available but many places only have a limited supply so don’t wait too long to get yours. The Sampson County Health Department and some local pharmacies and medical providers’ offices still have some vaccines, but people are encouraged to call ahead to ensure there is one available for them. For more information about the flu, contact the health department at 910-592-1131.