State health officials are urging North Carolinians to get a flu vaccine this year. Last year was one of the state’s worst flu seasons, with 391 flu-related deaths reported. The vaccination can reduce the risk of serious complications and the severity of the illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends receiving the vaccine by the end of October.
North Carolinians were not the only ones to suffer from last year’s deadly flu season. It is estimated that 80,000 Americans died of flu and flu-related complications last year. This is the highest death toll in four decades. Of the 391 deaths in N.C., seven were children under the age of 18, and 290 were age 65 and older. The CDC encourages everyone age six months and older receive the vaccine. Two N.C. deaths related to the flu have already been reported in 2018.
Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, spoke to ABC11 about the importance of the vaccine.
"A flu vaccination is a simple, easy step that can help keep you healthy," she said. “In addition, getting vaccinated can not only protect you, but it can protect your family, loved ones, and others who may be at a higher risk of complications."
The CDC notes that the flu vaccine has been shown to prevent flu illnesses, reduce doctor’s visits and hospitalizations, and can be life-saving in children.
The season for the disease starts in late fall (October) and lasts through spring (May). The vaccine requires two weeks for antibodies that protect against the flu to develop in the body and build immunity. Getting the shot as early as possible reduces your risks of being exposed to the flu. The CDC notes that getting vaccinated later in the season can still be beneficial, even into January or later.
Flu shots are offered in North Carolina at hospitals, pharmacies, medical offices, and healthcare centers. Your healthcare provider can point you in the right direction for a flu vaccine or you can use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder (https://vaccinefinder.org/) to find a location of flu vaccines near you.
In addition to the vaccine, the CDC recommends taking the following preventive steps to avoid the spread of flu germs:
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. After using a tissue, throw it in the trash and wash your hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like flu.
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