Local News

Flu Outbreak Has People Rethinking Daily Routines

Posted December 18, 2003

— As the flu outbreak sidelines thousands of people across North Carolina, beds are filling up at area hospitals. WakeMed in Raleigh, for one, continues to run over capacity.

Getting the flu vaccine or FluMist can help keep a person healthy. For people who did not get a shot or the mist, it could be tough to avoid catching the flu while sticking with their daily routines.

The flu epidemic even has churches rethinking how they do things. Midday Mass is supposed to be a peaceful event, held in a place of sanctuary. These days, it can be anything but.

"All these little kids were coughing and hacking all through Mass," said the Rev. Jonathon Woodhall, of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh. "So, when it came time for the sign of peace, I said: 'Kids, let's just wave the sign of peace,' and the principal went like this (giving a thumbs-up)."

In other parts of the country, some Catholic churches have suspended shaking hands and sharing wine.

The Raleigh Diocese has not gone that far. But, it has told parishioners it is OK to miss Mass if they are sick.

"They don't need to worry about the obligation to worship God," Woodhall said. "The obligation not to infect your neighbor is much more important."

Flu germs can be found practically everywhere in our daily lives. For instance, a lot of people go to the grocery store at least once a week. They go to the produce section, check out the fruits and vegetables. But how many people have touched the same apple?

Consider that flu germs can last on hard surfaces for a day or two. If someone with the flu touches the tongs at a salad bar, the germs can remain there all day.

That is why Dr. David Damsker, of the Wake County Health Department, said it is important to wash your hands if you were to touch those salad-bar tongs next.

"Just by getting the flu on your hand doesn't mean you'll get it," Damsker said. "That's why it's important to wash your hands as often as you can."

The flu also can be spread through coughing or sneezing. Someone who is coughing or sneezing can spread their germs to anyone within 3 to 6 feet of them.

"If someone's sneezing in a movie theater, and you're sitting next to them, there's a chance you'll get the flu," Damsker said.

Short of isolating ourselves, doctors say there is no sure way to avoid getting sick.

"There is no guarantee you won't get the flu," Damsker said.

Doctors suggest using tissues to cover your mouth when you cough. The germs only survive six to 10 hours on paper products.

If you do not have a tissue, be smart. Wash your hands.

Meanwhile, a 3-year-old from Elm City who lost his brother to the flu still was recovering from the illness Thursday.

Zach Andrews was in Nash General Hospital in stable condition. His 15-month-old brother, Dylan, died from the flu earlier this week.

Dylan's funeral is Friday at Joyner's Funeral Home in Wilson.

People lined up in droves to get flu shots Thursday. The Wake County Health Department gave out 150 vaccines in the morning for people in high-risk groups -- like young children and the elderly.

More shots will be available Friday. But so many people are lining up that even places that planned ahead have run out.

A few months ago, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville ordered 8,000 doses. Thursday, nurses gave the last one.


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