The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

December 10, 2012

County sees flu illnesses increase, advice given for prevention

By Erica Benjamin for the SNAP
SNAP

Monday, December 10, 2012 — The flu season has arrived early this year according to Stanly County Health Director Dennis Joyner.

“It's a little bit early. Typically we see a spike in the flu season occurring in January and the first part of February,” Joyner said, adding that the natural progression of the illness leads it to dwindle during the months of March and April.

The early start of the flu raises some questions regarding the length of its stay and subsequent impact on the community.

“It does raise a bit of concern as to is it going to spike early and prolong, or spike early and perhaps drop off after several weeks,” Joyner said.

Although specific numbers are not available for the county, Joyner noted that Stanly Regional Medical Center and other service providers have indicated an increase in flu activity.

“There has been a fairly significant spike in the number of people presenting to the emergency department for flu-like illness. The flu is certainly here," Joyner said.

The flu can strike anyone; however, some individuals are at greater risk because they are more susceptible to problems when they become infected with the flu virus.

“There are some people that are going to be more vulnerable to more troubling consequences of the flu, particularly young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems,” Joyner said, emphasizing the importance of vaccinations.

“By protecting yourself, you can protect them as well.”

With the elderly and children being more susceptible to the flu, schools and nursing homes around the county have been taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the illness.

At the Lutheran Home in Albemarle, a notice is posted encouraging family and friends of the patients to limit unnecessary visitation. In addition, the staff is being careful to wash their hands more frequently than normal and all of the patients have had their flu shots.

Priscilla Vint, administrator, explained that as a result of these precautions, the spread of the flu has been limited at the Lutheran Home.

“It appears we haven’t had any new cases of the flu since the first of the week,” Vint said, adding that the flu shot seems to be effective.

“We haven’t had anyone become so ill that they had to go to the hospital. They’ve come through the flu well as a result.”

If no new cases of the flu are confirmed at the Lutheran Home, the notice will likely be taken down next Monday, Vint said.

The Stanly County School system has also been impacted by the flu this year, according to Director of Student Services Shannon Batchelor.

“We are noting a higher than usual absence rate,” Batchelor said.

Although every absence can’t be attributed to the flu, the effect of the virus this year seems to be more noticeable.

“It started hitting us right before Thanksgiving. We usually see a spike in absences in the winter time with illnesses, but it’s usually not as glaring or as early,” Batchelor said.

According to Batchelor, no pattern as far as grade level or parts of the county has been identified.

“There’s no real concentration of the flu. It’s just very widespread,” Batche-lor said.

The usual precautions are being taken at the school, including cleaning and disinfecting classrooms after the children have left for the day, teaching children to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze,  encouraging proper hand washing techniques, and reminding parents that children should be fever free for 24 hours before returning to school.

The Stanly County Health Department offers some tips to prevent catching and transmitting the flu virus.

“Your first line of defense is to get a flu shot. It does typically take a couple of weeks for your body to develop immunity, however, when you have this much flu circulating in the community it is better to have some buildup of protection,” Joyner said.

In addition, people are encouraged to use proper hand washing techniques, to stay away from big crowds and if sick, to cover coughs and sneezes.

Some of the symptoms of the flu, according to Joyner, are: fever, general body aches and fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, chills, watery eyes, coughs and sneezes.

Individuals who experience a combination of these symptoms are encouraged to seek medical attention.

The flu strains which are included in this year’s vaccination seem to be a good match with the flu subtypes which are currently in circulation, according to Joyner.

Although there have been some cases of individuals who came down with the flu even after receiving a vaccination, Joyner hopes this fact won’t discourage anyone from getting the flu shot.

“There’s always going to be a small percentage that won’t develop immunity for whatever reason. Maybe they didn’t develop a resistance or it just wasn't a match,’ Joyner said.

For additional information concerning the flu, visit on the Web at www.flu.nc.gov.