01/12/14 — As death toll rises across state, local health officials urge avoiding the flu

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As death toll rises across state, local health officials urge avoiding the flu

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 12, 2014 12:06 AM

With state officials reporting the death toll reaching 21 from the seasonal flu outbreak, Wayne County Health Director Davin Madden reiterated the need to take necessary precautions -- get vaccinated, adopt the habit of frequent hand-washing and stay home when symptomatic.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that of the 21 deaths attributed to influenza, 19 of those have been young and middle-aged adults, most with underlying medical conditions. Only two deaths reported were persons over 65.

For the comparable period last year, the state reported 35 flu-related deaths. In all, 59 died from the flu during the 2012-2013 flu season in North Carolina. Of those, six were between the ages of 25 and 49.

The 2009-2010 flu season, which introduced the H1N1 pandemic, had a reported 107 deaths.

Madden said it is normal to see a spike in influenza-like illnesses this time of year.

"We're getting into the peak of flu season coming out of the holidays," he said Friday. "It's not too late to get a flu vaccine, especially people at risk -- the elderly, pregnant women and children."

The youngest segment are especially susceptible to H1N1, Madden said, so anyone serving in a caregiver capacity -- since children younger than 6 months old can't receive a flu vaccine -- is advised to take advantage of the flu vaccination.

It doesn't matter where the shot is administered, Madden said -- a physician's office, pharmacy or grocery store, designated as "retail clinics." The important thing is to become inoculated against any sort of outbreak.

The flu clinic at the Health Department is open Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., and accepts walk-ins. Vaccines are $25 and the clinic accepts Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Medicaid.

Overall, Madden said, the state has a good vaccination rate. But it can be improved upon.

Likewise, it's a good opportunity to remind residents of additional precautions they can take to prevent the spread of flu.

"The No. 1 prevention of disease and infection is a good habit of hand-washing," he said. "Hand-washing helps create a barrier between yourself and contact (with the flu).

"If you have a fever, you can be contagious up to 24 hours after having a fever. Unless it's absolutely necessary to get out of the house, for groceries or you have to go to work, they need to stay home until they're not contagious."

State Health Director Robin Gary Cummings also encouraged the vaccination for those with medical conditions like heart disease or lung disease that could place them at a higher risk.

"Those at higher risk of complications from flu should see a doctor right away if they suspect they may have influenza," he said. "Early treatment with antiviral medicine is an important second line of defense for those who become ill."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.