DHHS encourages flu vaccine as seasonal flu deaths continue to rise
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services today announced the 21st adult death linked to infection with seasonal influenza. Public health officials report that 19 of the 21 deaths reported in the state so far this season have been in young and middle-aged adults, most of whom had underlying medical conditions. Only two deaths have been reported in persons over 65.
State Health Director Robin Gary Cummings is encouraging flu vaccination as the best protection against flu, especially for women who are pregnant, people who are obese, and people who have medical conditions like heart disease or lung disease that place them at higher risk for severe illness.
"More than 50 percent of North Carolina's total population has some form of chronic disease," said Dr. Cummings. "Conditions like asthma, congestive heart failure and diabetes can increase the risk for complications from flu. It's not too late to get vaccinated and it is the safest and most effective action you can take to protect yourself and your family."
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against flu. Public health experts recommend taking additional precautions against illness, including washing your hands often with soap and water, and staying away from others who may have the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all adults hospitalized nationwide for flu so far this season have been obese, a higher proportion than in other recent flu seasons. While information about weight is not typically reported in North Carolina, obesity was noted in five of this season's flu deaths.
"Those at higher risk of complications from flu should see a doctor right away if they suspect they might have influenza," Cummings said. "Early treatment with antiviral medicine is an important second line of defense for those who become ill."
Flu activity has been widespread in North Carolina since mid-December. High levels of flu activity are expected to continue over the coming weeks, as flu season typically peaks during January and February. Flu vaccine is widely available and protects against the strains of flu circulating this year, including H1N1, the most common flu strain so far this year.
For more information on flu prevention and treatment and to find out where you can get a flu vaccination in your community, visit www.flu.nc.gov.