ROCKINGHAM — The statewide number of reported flu cases has spiked since Dec. 31 from 4,000 to 7,407 infections as of the week ending Jan. 7 — and the number of deaths attributed to the current flu season rose from ten to thirteen.
FirstHealth of the Carolinas spokesperson Emily Sloan said area hospitals — including Richmond Memorial — have activated a protocol for visitors designed to curb the spread of the virus.
“FirstHealth of the Carolinas is asking for the community’s cooperation to limit the spread of the flu. In an effort to protect patients, visitors and staff, FirstHealth asks that the community adhere to the following precautions when visiting the hospital:
• Please visit immediate family only;
• Do not allow children under the age of 12 to visit the hospital;
• Do not visit anyone in the hospital if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue; and
• Remember to wash your hands, and cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of these infections.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online, many deaths caused by flu each year go unreported.
“There are several factors that make it difficult to determine accurate numbers of deaths caused by flu regardless of reporting,” the CDC website explaines. “Some of the challenges in counting influenza-associated deaths include…the sheer volume of deaths to be counted (and) the lack of testing (not everyone that dies with an influenza-like illness is tested for influenza); and the different coding of deaths).”
According to the most recent weekly influenza surveillance map prepared by the CDC Influenza Division, North Carolina and Virginia are categorized as “widespread” for flu infections, with South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia reporting regional outbreaks.
In the last week of December, acting state epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore said people who haven’t gotten vaccinated against the flu still should do so, the Associated Press reported. The number of flu-related deaths in North Carolina can vary greatly. In the 2011-2012 season, the number was nine; in the 2014-2015 season, it was 218.
As of Thursday, several local drug stores’ digital signs indicated flu vaccine is still available. After the vaccine is administered, it can take two to three weeks for antibodies to develop.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services lists the most common flu symptoms: a 100 degree F or higher fever or feeling feverish (not everyone with the flu has a fever,) cough and/or sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, headaches and/or body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most commonly in children).
The department defines influenza as “a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people — such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions — are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.”
To get a vaccine, contact your primary care provider or local pharmacy.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.
A sign in the lobby of FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital warns of visitor restrictions due to a regional widespread influenza outbreak.