Flu strikes early

Vaccinations recommended to prevent illness
By Caroline Klapper | Dec 14, 2012
Photo by: File photo The flu season has begun early this year with more cases being reported than is usual for December.

Flu season has gotten an early start this year, and in Haywood County, the school system has already seen the effects of the illness spreading rapidly among students, especially at the high schools.

School Superintendent Anne Garrett said that while attendance rates at county elementary schools have been normal, one of the high schools had about 170 absences and another had about 100 over a two-day period recently. Those numbers are higher than normal for this time of year, and school nurses are reporting that many of the absences are flu related.

However, rumors of schools closing because of the flu are untrue, she added.

“As far as closing schools, we do not have the authority to do that. The health department has to do that, and it has to be an epidemic to close. It’s definitely not (an epidemic),” Garrett said.

As with most illnesses that make the rounds through the schools every year, the flu-related absences lasted for about two days, and attendance has since returned to normal. What is unusual, though, is how early in the season the flu has appeared.

Usually flu season peaks early in the New Year, around January or February, but this time, the bug is striking early.

“Last year was a very mild year in flu activity compared to what we’re already seeing this year,” said health department Director Carmine Rocco. “We want people to take this influenza season seriously.”

Two deaths from the flu have already been reported in North Carolina — both from the Triad region. Although one victim was of advanced age with health complications, the other had no known risk factors for developing a severe influenza illness. What is known is that neither person received a flu vaccine.

“One of the concerns is that not everybody is getting vaccinated,” Rocco said, adding it is recommended that everyone over six months old get a vaccine unless they are known to have a severe allergic reaction to it.

While the vaccine is never 100 percent effective against all of the many strains of flu that exist, Rocco said it is developed to provide immunity against the strains that are most likely to cause a problem during this flu season.

Reports so far indicate that the type of flu currently spreading through the region is covered in the vaccine this year, he said.

Even though it takes two weeks for the body to build up immunity against the flu infection after a person gets vaccinated, it is still not too late to get one.

“We’re at the beginning of the flu season, so we’ve still got several months to get through,” Rocco said. “By all means we want people to be protected, and we consider the flu vaccine a good way to do that.”

The flu vaccine is available through the health department and most primary care physicians, but many pharmacies and some general stores, such as Walmart, also offer vaccinations.

For those without health insurance who qualify, the health department can provide free vaccinations. For information or to schedule a vaccination with the health department, call 452-6675.

Vaccination is one of the best ways to prevent getting the flu, but Rocco said people can also take extra precautions by washing their hands frequently, using hand sanitizers and covering up coughs and sneezes. If a person does get sick, he or she should stay home until the illness has passed to avoid spreading it to others.