01/11/18 — County so far unaffected by particularly severe flu strain

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County so far unaffected by particularly severe flu strain

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 11, 2018 5:50 AM

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Immunizations coordinator Ann Brogden fills a syringe with the flu vaccine Wednesday at the Wayne County Health Department.

Wayne County may be lagging behind in influenza activity, but there is still plenty of vaccine and officials are encouraging precautions and preventive measures.

"Our activity for flu is low," Josa Raynor-Vaughn, communicable diseases program manager for the Health Department, said Wednesday. "We get our data from the hospital and also from the public health epidemiologist. Activity has been very low."

She said she hasn't seen any cases of flu this year, although for 2017 there were two deaths in the county attributed to influenza.

Wayne UNC Health Care has not reported any cases so far for 2018, she said. Procedure for any type of infectious disease, which includes influenza, is for the hospital and physician offices to notify the Health Department to report it.

North Carolina's numbers have been behind those of other states in the nation in recent weeks. State officials announced the first pediatric flu death of 2017-18 in late December.

Historically, the practice is not to release the child's hometown, county and gender. N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported the death occurred in the central part of the state and the child died from complications associated with influenza.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the last week of 2017, flu activity "increased sharply" around the nation.

A total of 13 influenza-related pediatric deaths have been reported this season in the U.S. Up to half of the number of children who die from flu typically have known medical conditions that put them at higher risk. Numbers for adults are a bit trickier to tally.

Flu deaths must be reported to the CDC but "flu deaths in adults are not nationally notifiable," says its website, cdc.gov.

The state DHHS, however, reported 11 adult deaths in the state attributed to flu-related causes. Six of those people were age 65 and older.

Local officials have had no reports of deaths in the county attributed to the flu to date this year.

This is the thick of the flu season, Raynor-Vaughn said, and there is still time to get the vaccination.

"We actually started giving flu shots in September. We can give them as late as April," she said. "We have 297 doses of the vaccine left."

The Health Department has a walk-in clinic, which is open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Fridays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Dr. David Tayloe of Goldsboro Pediatrics said his office is seeing a similar situation.

"We do some flu tests right along because we know it's that time of year and we see an occasional child with the flu but we have not had the feeling that we're in an epidemic by any stretch," he said.

He said he believes there is less resistance this year to getting the vaccine, in contrast to reports that the current vaccine is not well-matched to the strain of flu going around. Quite often, he said, sickness can be attributed to the vaccination.

"We don't start the vaccine until school's been in for a couple months," he said. "So when some people start getting sick they may feel it's related to the vaccine.

"It's a constant uphill battle for convincing folks to get the vaccine, but it's been an easier sell this year. I think the community is more accepting of the flu vaccine this year, which is encouraging."

Most of the deaths being reported are those in the older demographic, he said, typically in the range of 65 or 75 and older.

That is still a concern, Tayloe said, and he advises residents to take precautions -- for themselves and for those in that population.

Like the Health Department, the flu shot is available at his office.

"We're vaccinating right along. We have not run out (of the shots). We do walk-ins, you don't need an appointment," he said. "The worst thing that happened to us was when they took the nasal mist off the market because it was only 3 percent effective.

"I was hoping somebody would get it right (and replace the mist). But we do still have the injectable."

Vaccinations are still the best protection available, officials said.

In addition, residents are encouraged to practice good health hygiene in preventing the spread of flu.

Hand-washing and coughing etiquette, Raynor-Vaughn suggested -- "sneeze into your elbow and things like that," she said.

"Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands," reiterated Tayloe. "It's not too late to get the vaccine. If you get the vaccine today, within three weeks you'll have good protection."

Wayne Memorial Hospital is also keeping close tabs on the influenza situation.

Brittani Schultze-Gardner, coordinator of digital and community relations, said the hospital receives weekly reports from the N.C. Department of Public Health.

"Our infection control folks monitor those to determine when or if we need visiting restriction implementation," she said. "They're urging folks, it's not too late to get the vaccinations.

"Practice good hand-washing and if you feel bad, stay home -- don't go to Walmart, don't go pump gas, don't go to church; stay home."

Visitation restrictions are a precaution to ensure patient safety as well as the public, and this morning the hospital enacted such restrictions.

Officials also keep an eye on the surrounding counties in case there is a drastic increase in influenza cases.

That being said, the rule of thumb also applies to things like RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, a very common virus typically affecting adults and older children. It can be more serious in young babies, especially in some high-risk groups.

The hospital does currently have restrictions for visiting children in the pediatric unit, Schultze-Gardner said.

"Right now, basically visitors must be 13 years of age or older to visit pediatric patients who have been admitted with RSV or the flu because it's important that they not be exposed to anything," she said. "And in the event that we have a lot of RV or a lot of flu cases on the pediatric unit, we won't let any visitors in. But right now they have to be 13 years of age or older to visit a patient."

Her office shared a typical list of symptoms most commonly attributed to influenza. These include a temperature of 100 degrees or higher, although not everyone with the flu will have a fever; cough and/or sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache and/or body aches, chills, fatigue and nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (the latter most commonly in children).