Health Team

Public health officials urge flu vaccinations

Posted January 28, 2011 4:47 p.m. EST
Updated January 28, 2011 6:07 p.m. EST

— Five people in North Carolina, including two children, have died in recent weeks of complications from influenza, prompting public health officials to again urge people statewide to get vaccinated against the virus.

Until two weeks ago, Robin Carver, director of infection prevention at WakeMed, thought the state had dodged a bad flu season, she said Friday. Then, patients complaining of flu-like symptoms began flooding the hospital's emergency rooms in Raleigh and Cary.

So far this week, 374 people have been seen at WakeMed for the flu, and 24 have been admitted, compared with 72 patients seen and 24 admitted during the first week of December.

"They have really been coming in, maxing out the system," Carver said.

State Epidemiologist Megan Davies said the same trend has occurred statewide, and it likely won't stop for several weeks.

"A typical flu season lasts about eight weeks, so we've got six or eight weeks more of a lot of flu circulating," Davies said.

Rumors have circulated that the flu vaccine isn't effective this year, Davies said, but they are false. People who have gotten sick after getting a flu shot were exposed to the virus before the vaccine was able to take effect, she said.

"Two weeks is what it takes to develop full immunity from your influenza shot," she said.

In addition to suggesting the usual precaution of hand-washing to prevent the spread of germs, Davies encouraged people who haven't gotten a flu shot to do so soon.

"If you go get vaccinated now, that will carry you through the second half of the flu season protected," she said.

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases also recommended that people stay home if they are sick, and the state Division of Public Health has created an online checklist for people to know why they might have the flu and need to see a doctor.