Michael F. Easley
Governor

The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina Carmen Hooker Odom
Secretary

North Carolina
Department of Health and Human Services

For Release: IMMEDIATE
Date: January 5, 2007

  Contact: Amanda Dayton, (919) 707-5565

It's Not Too Late to Vaccinate Against the Flu

RALEIGH, NC – Ongoing surveillance by the state’s Division of Public Health indicates that North Carolina is in the midst of its flu season. State health officials are therefore reiterating the need for North Carolinians to be vaccinated against influenza (flu) disease.

“There’s a misconception that January is too late to get immunized,” said Dr. Leah Devlin, State Health Director. “It’s not too late. In fact, if you get immunized now, you can still avoid the worst part of our flu season and protect not only yourself, but also your loved ones from the disease.”

North Carolina’s flu season usually peaks in mid-February to March. The state monitors flu activity through a sentinel provider network and a hospital emergency department surveillance system (known as NC DETECT). Eighty health providers across North Carolina report the number of their patients who are experiencing influenza-like illness (ILI), which is a fever of at least 100 degrees and cough or sore throat. Additionally, 90 hospitals report daily emergency department visits electronically through NC DETECT. Thursday’s sentinel report shows that flu activity continues to increase in the state, with sentinel sites reporting 2.49 percent and emergency departments reporting 9.04 percent of visits due to ILI.

Vaccinations are recommended for anyone who wants to decrease the risk of influenza. While anyone can get the flu, many groups, including people aged 50 years or older, children aged 6 months to 59 months, those with chronic illnesses (heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, diabetes), and pregnant women, are at highest risk for complications. In addition, those in close contact with these high risk persons, such as health care personnel, and healthy household contacts and caregivers of high risk persons, are also at increased risk and should get vaccinated.

As in any flu season, Dr. Devlin strongly urges people to take basic precautions to prevent contracting or spreading the flu. “Avoid contact with ill persons and frequently wash your hands to reduce your risk of infection,” she said. Anyone who is coughing or sneezing should cover their nose and mouth with a handkerchief to limit spread of the virus.

Influenza symptoms begin suddenly and may include fever, severe headache and body aches, sore throat and cough. Fever, chills, muscle/joint pain and extreme fatigue also characterize the disease. The flu can make a person more susceptible to pneumonia, an illness that puts a severe strain on the heart and lungs especially dangerous for people who already suffer from heart or lung disease. If you get the flu, stay home, get plenty of rest, drink a lot of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco products. Also, you can take medications such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) to relieve the fever and muscle aches associated with the flu. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever.
Devlin said that people should remain alert for possible flu infection. People who are at increased risk of complications should consult their health care provider when flu symptoms begin. Persons not at high risk for complications should consult their health care provider if they are concerned about their illness or if their flu symptoms are unusually severe (for instance, trouble breathing) or prolonged.

Each year in the United States, between 5 and 20 percent of the population is infected with influenza. Approximately 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized because of influenza complications. Since influenza is unpredictable, and different types and strains of influenza circulate throughout the flu season, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that influenza vaccine be offered throughout the influenza season-- even after influenza has begun to appear in a community.

For more information about influenza and influenza vaccine visit www.immunizenc.com or www.cdc.gov/flu. To find a flu clinic in your area visit http://www.mrnc.org/fcf/. A list of health departments is available at http://www.ncalhd.org/county.htm.

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Public Affairs Office
101 Blair Drive, Raleigh, NC 27603
(919)733-9190
FAX (919)733-7447

Debbie Crane
Director