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N.C. Flu Activity Already Reaching Last Season's Levels

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RALEIGH, N.C. — State Health Director Leah Devlin said Thursday that flu activity during the last week of November put North Carolina already at the peak level of the 2002 flu season.

Last year's peak was not recorded until mid-March.

"The flu season began earlier, and it is coming on stronger," Devlin said. "It is disturbing to see this level of activity so early in the season. We can't stress it enough -- people need to get flu shots.

"People also need to pay close attention to simple but critical personal actions to prevent the spread of flu," she added. "Sometimes we forget that the simplest action -- frequently washing your hands -- can greatly reduce your chance of infection. If you are coughing or sneezing, you should cover your nose and mouth to limit spread of the virus."

A network of physicians, university health centers and public health agencies report flu-like illnesses to the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These reports give a good idea of what's happening in the state.

Devlin said that while all people should consider getting a flu shot, it is important for some groups in particular to be immunized immediately. Those groups include:

  • People 50 years of age and older.
  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities who have chronic medical conditions.
  • Adults and children 6 months of age and older who have chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma.
  • Adults and children 6 months of age and older who required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of metabolic diseases like diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system, including immune system problems caused by medication or by infection with HIV.
  • Children and teenagers, 6 months to 18 years of age, who are on long-term aspirin therapy and therefore might be at risk for Reye syndrome after influenza
  • Women who will be in their second or third trimester of pregnancy during the flu season.
  • Children 6 through 23 months of age.
  • Healthcare workers.
  • All household contacts of people at high risk for influenza.
  • Flu symptoms begin suddenly and may include fever, severe headache, body aches, sore throat and cough.

    Flu can make a person more susceptible to pneumonia, an illness that puts a severe strain on the heart and lungs, which can be especially dangerous to people who already suffer from heart and lung disease.

    Those who develop flu-like symptoms should drink fluids, rest and stay home to avoid spreading the infection.

    Flu-sufferers may also take over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. But aspirin should be avoided because taking it for some forms of flu has been associated with Reye's Syndrome, a serious disease in children that can occur following a viral illness and that causes swelling of the brain.

    Prescription drugs also are also available to treat flu. They are most effective if taken within two days of developing symptoms.

    Antibiotics are not effective against viral diseases like flu.

    For information regarding local-area flu vaccinations, contact your local health department or the state Immunization Branch at

    (919) 733-7752.

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