Local News

Flu still a risk despite mild season for virus

Posted February 17, 2016

Every year seems to bring a new twist to the flu season and this year is no exception because, so far, it’s been a mild year for the virus.

The state’s tracking chart for the 2015-2016 flu season is updated every week. Last year, 219 North Carolinians died from flu-related illness. This season, flu cases spiked in late December and early January and have been trending downward ever since.

There have been only two flu-related deaths in the state since October.

Last season, the flu vaccine was not a good match for the strain that dominated, but this season is different.

“The evidence we have is that the vaccine, which as two A and two B strains, was an excellent match with the viruses that are circulating,” said UNC Epidemiologist Dr. David Weber.

Weber, an infectious disease expert, said it’s not time for people to let their guard down about the flu because the season typically runs through May. Plus, it has still been an active season for other viral infections.

“Ever since December, about eight percent of all the patients coming into our emergency department have had a fever, plus sore throat or cough,” said Weber. “Normally it would be about two percent, so there are a lot of respiratory viruses out there.”

WRAL’s Dr. Allen Mask said he has seen just a few positive flu tests this season and many flu-like illnesses caused by the rhino or parainfluenza viruses. He has also seen cases of sinusitis and bronchitis, which are common during this time of year.

Patients who experience flu-like symptoms are encouraged to see their doctor because anti-viral medications can cut down on the intensity and duration of the illness. People who experience these symptoms should also stay home for about a week to avoid spreading the viruses to other people, Mask said.

Mask said that flu vaccines are still available for this season and people can still get some protection if they get a flu shot now, although the vaccine takes about a week or two to take effect.

Mask said doctors are already ordering flu vaccines for next year, including the quadravalent vaccine, which covers two strains of type A and two strains of type B influenza.

The Centers for Disease Control said that vaccine gives a person 10 to 12 percent better coverage over the standard flu vaccine.


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