Even though the flu is still spreading throughout North Carolina, the numbers of reported cases of the flu may have already peaked this season.
“It’s interesting, this year the flu has peaked much sooner than in previous years,” said Candi Gambill, the communicable disease and preparedness coordinator for the Appalachian District Health Department.
Gambill said the flu has peaked in March in previous years. This years information shows a decrease in flu activity from Dec. 29 to Jan. 5, showing a downward trend of flu cases moving into 2013.
Also, Gambill said she doesn’t know of any fatal cases of the flu in the Appalachian District, which serves Ashe, Watauga and Alleghany counties. However, this good fortune was isolated to the High Country; the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported 17 flu deaths since late November across the state.
Gambill said there are several different ways to fight the flu.
“Washing your hands is always number one,” said Gambill. “Washing your hands protects against the flu and other diseases as well.”
The second most important measure against the flu, according to Gambill, is getting a flu shot.
Also, Gambill said if a person catches the flu, they need to stay home. Not only will that keep the flu from spreading, it will allow the patient to rest and recover faster, said Gambill.
“The flu is a hard one to talk about,” said Gambill.
According to Gambill, the number of flu cases is difficult to estimate because diagnosing the flu is based on the patient’s symptoms rather than a test.
Even if a flu test is given, a negative result from the test does not mean a person is free of the flu. Gambill said the health department doesn’t use a test to diagnose the flu.
Cases of influenza are only directly mentioned to the CDC under two conditions: if a pediatric death occurred because of the flu, or if physicians notice varied, out of the norm, symptoms indicating a new strain of the flu.
Instead, the CDC tracks the flu using “sentinel sites.” These sites are predetermined hospitals, health departments, and physician offices that confidentially collect specimens of the flu.
If a patients visiting a sentinel site displays specific criteria, like a high fever, a sample specimen of their disease is collected and later sent to a lab to be studied.
This is part of the process of developing the flu vaccine from year to year. When labs determine what type of strain each specimen belongs to, new vaccines are developed that protect against the most common flu strains from around the world.
Gambill said there are hundreds of different strains of influenza, and this year’s vaccine “is well-matched for the flu.”
Gambill also said the school systems in the Appalachian district are “usually very quick to communicate if something is going on,” and act quickly to prevent the flu from spreading.
Tammy Craine, Ashe County’s lead school nurse, also noticed the flu has “kind of died down” in Ashe County’s schools.
According to Craine, the schools has taken several precautions against the flu this year. School employee’s were all given the flu vaccine, and teachers wipe down their rooms daily. The school system has also stressed hand-washing to its students.
Flu information has also been posted on the homepage for Ashe County Schools.
The information reads:
“Influenza (the flu) can be a serious disease that can occur in people of all ages, resulting in lost days from work and school to hospitalizations and sometimes even death. Anyone can get sick from the flu and severity varies. The first and most important step in protecting against the flu is to get a flu shot every season (information provided by the CDC).”