Flu season is severe
Widespread cases of the flu this year have led to extra precautions at health care and congregate living facilities and have prompted renewed calls for people to wash their hands frequently and get a flu vaccination.
Carmine Rocco, Haywood County Health Department director, said both regionally and statewide, statistics show the flu season is just starting to peak.
"If it continues as it did last year, we'll see cases increasing over the next few weeks and then start to decline," he said.
The fact schools have been closed due to weather could alter the trend a bit since viruses are spread more easily in large gatherings.
"We encourage people to stay at home if they are not feeling well, especially caregivers who often work with those most susceptible," he said.
The number of states reporting "widespread seasonal flu activity" jumped from 10 to 25 last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An area is said to have “widespread flu activity” if more than 50 percent of the geographic regions of the state. North Carolina, where 13 people have died from the flu so far this season, is included in the list.
The main strain found in flu cases this year is H1N1, said Roco, and the vaccine includes protection from this virus. H1N1 was identified in a pandemic that became known as “swine flu” during an outbreak in 2009.
It is not too late to still be vaccinated, Rocco said, noting that a supply is still available at the health department and likely at other places.
The effectiveness of the vaccine depends on the health of the individual getting vaccinated and the strains of flu in vaccines. If a person is weakened by other illnesses, the vaccine may not be effective, Rocco said.
Dr. Frank Moskos with Midway Medical Center in Clyde was the on-call physician last weekend and saw a large number of patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Most of the office staff is even wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the virus. Moskos cannot stress enough the value of getting a flu shot. He has gotten the vaccine every year since 2000, he said, and his wife and children ages 3 and 6 also receive the vaccine every year. "I would recommend everybody else do the same," he said. "It is never too late to get vaccinated."
MedWest-Haywood, where many of the flu cases are treated locally and reported to the state, would not comment on the number of flu cases seen at the hospital this season, though the numbers are tracked and reported as required by law.
"We’ve chosen not to share the number of inpatients who test positive for the flu for several reasons," wrote Christina Deidesheimer, strategy and marketing director for MedWest Haywood. "One of those is that the number of people admitted and discharged from the hospital is fluid; it’s a moving target. That number might be one on Monday and two on Tuesday. So come Wednesday, the story will already be inaccurate."
MedWest Haywood is limiting visitors to those 12 years or older and asking that visitors consider calling rather than visiting. Respiratory and hand hygiene stations are available at entrances and waiting areas. These contain alcohol hand sanitizer, masks, and tissues for anyone to use but especially those with fever, cough or sore throats.
Mountaineer readers responding through Facebook provided a snapshot of what the flu is like this season.
Most responders said they experienced hot and cold spells with severe body aches. Many said the flu symptoms lasted a minimum of three days, but some for it for 12 days before they began to feel somewhat better.
“I work in the health care industry and this flu season is going strong,”said Jody T. Thornton, whose Facebook page states he is a pharmacist at CVS. “Severity depends on immunization and how quickly a person can be treated with Tamiflu. Tamiflu must be started within 48 hours of onset of symptoms. It can also be used as a preventative for those who come in close contact with someone who has the flu. It is not too late to get the flu shot, although it takes two to three weeks to gain full immunity.”
Lorrie Jenkins reports getting sick Christmas morning, and said on Jan. 5 she was still not 100 percent better.
“I can honestly say it is the sickest I have been in years.... but the worst of it was six days,” she reports.
Gavin Sapphire Jones wrote that Chesnut Park Retirement has been closed off for any visitors due to flu and pneumonia.
"It is awful," he noted.