Oct. 30Flu season has started mildly in North Carolina, with Forsyth County having one of just two diagnosed cases through Oct. 19, state health officials said Tuesday.
However, local influenza experts say it's too early to predict a weak overall season, which typically lasts until March 31.
Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said the strains expected are predominately the same ones from the past two years, specifically the A strains H1N1 and H3N2.
The H1N1 strain, or swine flu, was prevalent during the 2009-10 flu season, but since has been limited by its inclusion in the vaccine.
Forsyth's only case to date was of the A strain H3, according to the flu.nc.gov website of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
"What we don't know for sure yet is how much influenza B we'll see," Ohl said. "Usually, we see another 15 percent to 20 percent. We don't expect it to be any different this year."
Flu season usually peaks in January or February, although it can linger well into spring depending on the dominant flu subtype.
"Last year was actually a little abnormal because we had a lot of influenza circulating in October and in early November," Ohl said. "In a normal year, we don't start seeing much until the end of November and into December."
Government health experts recommend that people get vaccinated as soon as possible since it takes two weeks for the immunity to kick in. Vaccination is available in nasal spray and shot form.
The vaccine is recommended for anyone over 6 months of age and is free through the county health department at 799 N. Highland Ave. in Winston-Salem.
Local hospitals, many pharmacies and individual physician practices also have the vaccines, usually for a fee. Most health insurance companies, as well as Medicaid and Medicare, cover the cost of the flu shot.
DHHS said it has distributed almost 200,000 doses of vaccine to local health departments and health care providers to immunize children eligible for the Vaccines for Children Program, as well as certain uninsured adults who qualify for state-supplied vaccine.
DHHS reported 59 flu-related deaths and 418 confirmed cases in North Carolina during the 2012-13 flu season. Thirty-six of those who died were 65 and older. There were 16 deaths among those ages 50 to 64, six among ages 25 to 49 and one death from those 18 to 24.
County health officials also are providing free vaccines for whooping cough because of an increase in the number of cases of pertussis. Tdap, the vaccine, is given to sixth-graders and recommended for all adults who have not had one.
In August, state health employees became the latest worker group to face mandatory flu vaccinations, joining many not-for-profit health care systems in the Triad and the state.
"Because many of the patients and residents in our state facilities are at high risk for complications from flu, this is a responsible decision that will create a safer environment for our patients and staff," DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos said in a statement.
Novant Health Inc. said in June that mandatory flu shots are coming for about 32,800 employees and physicians systemwide.
Wake Forest Baptist said in June that all employees, students, trainees and volunteers are required to get an annual immunization unless there is a medical and/or religious exemption. The policy has been in place since 2009. Cone Health has had a similar policy since 2010.
Journal reporter Fran Daniel contributed to this article
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. It usually spreads when people who have the flu virus cough, sneeze or talk. Most people who contract the flu will be sick only two to seven days.
Health officials say that anyone who develops more severe symptoms difficulty breathing, severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or chest pain should seek medical attention.
Preventive measures include: cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly; wash hands frequently, preferably with soap and water or an approved hand sanitizer; and stay home when you are sick until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours.
Source: N.C. Department of Health and Human Services
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