Health officials stress importance of flu vaccine

By: By Kristy D. Carter -

Health officials are not reporting a large outbreak of flu cases, but those numbers are expected to grow in the coming weeks as the 2016-17 flu season comes into full swing.

With more than 130 million doses of the flu vaccine distributed, local health agencies are urging residents to not only get vaccinated, but to practice safe, health habits to prevent spreading of the virus.

According to Kathie Johnson, nursing director with the Sampson County Health Department, a small number of flu cases has reported at the local health agency, but as the flu season begins to peak, those who haven’t received the vaccination are encouraged to do so soon.

“The strains of the flu that are targeted in this year’s vaccine are working well against this year’s circulating flu viruses,” Johnson said. “The current flu vaccine is providing very good protection this year. However, it is still early in the flu season, which usually doesn’t peak until January. We may see a spike in flu cases towards the beginning of the new year.”

While an exact number of flu cases within Sampson County is unknown, the health department has not received any notification of flu-related deaths. Doctor’s offices and clinics are not required to report flu cases to the health department.

In addition to receiving the flu vaccination, there are other steps anyone can take to help prevent getting the flu.

Everyone is strongly encouraged to wash their hands. Hand washing is the number one step in infection control, because Johnson said hands harbor millions of germs just from every day use.

Washing your hands well and washing them often will help protect you against many of the germs that make you sick, particularly the flu virus. Wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 15-20 seconds (sing row, row, row your boat two times). This will help ensure you kill many of the germs that are on your hands.”

Another preventative measure is to cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow or use a tissue. This will prevent the spread of germs to other people.

The health department encourages you to stay at home if you are sick, especially if you have a fever. This will allow time to rest and get better and will also prevent infecting anyone else.

According to Wanda Holden, RN, Infection Control Nurse with Sampson Regional Medical Center, in a three month period from September through Nov. 28, there have been 25 confirmed cases of the flu at the local hospital. That number is slightly higher than the number of cases reported for the same time last year.

There are suggestions for helping contain the virus and to keep it from spreading to others, and according to Holden, one of the best ways to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine.

According to Holden, tips for preventing the spread of the virus include:

• Hand and respiratory hygiene. This is the next best step to preventing the spread of flu. Hand washing helps stop the spread of germs. It’s recommended that you wash often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.

• Disinfect to kill germs. It’s important to disinfect surfaces and objects that may come in contact with flu germs. In the home and workplace, disinfect phones, keyboards, door handles, and other commonly touched surfaces.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent the spread of germs.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and if you are sick, try to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. It’s also recommended that people wear a face mask to reduce spreading or catching germs.

• Covering your cough and sneeze. If you cough or sneeze, use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose, or direct your cough or sneeze into your elbow. This way, you are less likely to touch a surface and spread germs.

“Sampson Regional Medical Center has hygiene stations located at all main entrances and throughout the hospital to promote hand washing and use of face masks,” Holden explained. “Individuals who are exhibiting flu-like symptoms are encouraged to refrain from visiting the hospital. If they must visit, they are encouraged to wear a mask. We also advise visitors to clean their hands at a hand washing station as they enter and exit the facility.”

To get a flu shot, you can call the Sampson County Health Department at 910-592-1131, extension 4001, 4960 or 4220, your local health care provider or most local pharmacies.

Health care officials are urging local residents to get a flu shot to help prevent catching the spreading the virus. care officials are urging local residents to get a flu shot to help prevent catching the spreading the virus.

By Kristy D. Carter

Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.

Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.