Flu, Colds Run Rampant
Flu season seems to be in full swing.
Schools, businesses and doctors' offices are reporting a rash of complaints about flu-like symptoms - aches, pains, fever and sniffles.
"Influenza is widespread in North Carolina," says Lynn Ballenger, health educator with the Moore County Department of Health. "Every county is seeing flu right now."
But it's not too late to get the flu vaccination, according to Ballenger and others working in the health field. That's one piece of good news.
Another bit of good news is the availability of vaccine. Unlike during the 2009-2010 season, there is no shortage of flu vaccine this year.
A member of the pharmacy staff at the Walgreens drugstore in Aberdeen has observed an upswing in purchases of prescription drugs and over-the-counter sales of remedies for the symptoms of flu, the common cold and other respiratory diseases in recent weeks.
The drugstore, along with other pharmacies throughout the county, still has the vaccine available and can administer it on a walk-in basis without an appointment.
"The state is recommending that if you haven't already gotten the vaccination, it's not too late to do it now," Ballenger says.
She says many doctors' offices and pharmacies have the vaccine and are still providing this service to late-comers.
However, Ballenger recommends that local residents call their doctor's office or drugstore in advance to make sure the vaccine is available and, if so, the times the vaccine is being administered.
The O'Neal School reported an elevated rate of absenteeism blamed on a combination of sicknesses, including flu, strep throat, mononucleosis and the common cold.
Kathy Taylor, communications director for O'Neal, said the school has experienced an absenteeism rate between 13 and 14 percent in the upper and middle school divisions because of these illnesses. She said the lower school is back to a less elevated rate of 5 percent, although numbers were higher last week.
The problem was less obvious in the public schools.
Gretchen Kelly, public relations director for FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, said the situation has not become so severe that restrictions on visitation have been imposed.
The severity of the outbreak was noted in early January when the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported its first child death in the 2010-2011 flu season. The teenage victim had not been vaccinated.
State Health Director Jeff Engel called the young person's death "a tragic reminder of the potentially devastating effects flu can have on people at any age."
Engel said flu vaccine is both available and affordable this year.
"The vaccine is an excellent match for all three strains of flu we are seeing nationally and in our state," Engel said. "A good vaccine match can reduce the chances of getting influenza by up to 90 percent."
The flu season began early in 2009 when a new strain, H1N1 (once known as swine flu), erupted worldwide and quickly made it into the United States. Because H1N1 was new, vaccine manufacturers were unprepared and a shortage developed early in the season. The 2009-2010 season was unusually long and lasted into last spring.
The situation is different this year with no new strains reported and plenty of vaccine available.
"Flu season lasts into the spring, so if you haven't been vaccinated, it is not too late," Engel said. "If you do get sick, remember to stay home from work or school while you are sick, cover coughs and sneezes, and - most important -wash your hands."
Influenza kills about 36,000 people and results in 220,000 hospitalizations yearly.
Staff writer Hannah Sharpe contributed to this article.
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