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Health Team

Peak flu season approaching

Posted January 15, 2009 3:29 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— In North Carolina, flu normally becomes more prevalent after Christmas and usually peaks in late February or early March. Nationally, flu accounts for 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths annually.

The North Carolina Department of Health this week reported nine confirmed cases across the state, up from six cases last week. The flu is still considered a regional phenomenon, however, without widespread impact.

Three of the new confirmed cases are in Wake County. The three newest cases are in Durham County.

This year's flu vaccine is an effective match for the current strain. However, the antiviral medication Tamiflu – which is given within 48 hours after diagnosis – is not effective against the current strain of influenza.

It is still not too late to get vaccinated. Flu season runs until May, and it takes only two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective. You can get a flu shot at your local health department or a doctor's office.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises flu shots for all children from 6 months old through 18 years old. Vaccination is also recommended for adults 50 and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions like asthma, household contacts of people with chronic illnesses, pregnant women and health care workers.

WRAL also wants to dispel myths about the flu shot.

Myth No. 1: It can give you the flu. Doctors say the shot simply doesn't do that.

Myth No. 2: The flu shot hurts. Doctors say they use a tiny, 25-gauge needle, and the shot is over in a second. A Band-Aid is optional.

Besides the flu shot, there are other simple ways to help avoid the flu:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Use tissues and throw them away after each use.
  • Use a germ killing wipe to clean common surfaces like door knobs, shared keyboards and telephones.
  • If you have flu symptoms, stay home. 

Flu symptoms include a fever, severe headache, body aches, sore throat and a cough.

Fayetteville hospital filled with patients with flu-like illnesses

Due in part to the flu-like illnesses, patients say they are waiting as long as 12 hours at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville. Doctors there say they are treating 350 to 420 people a day in the emergency room. There aren't enough beds for the patients seeking medical help.

"The hospital beds fill up. When the hospital beds fill up, we are holding people in the emergency department who need to be upstairs. When I'm holding people in the emergency department, that's fewer beds to treat people coming in, so wait times happen,” Dr. John Reed, emergency department director for Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.

To compensate, Reed says he is setting up beds in hallways and has called for more staff.