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Flu season shows no sign of abating

021118fluupdate01

Tim Green sits in the waiting area of the emergency room Friday at Nash General Hospital. Non-flu patients and flu patients are separated to take precautions and reduce the risk of exposure.

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Sunday, February 11, 2018

While at least 140 North Carolina residents have died of influenza this year, local health officials confirmed Friday that none of those deaths have occurred in the Twin Counties.

However, the increase in flu cases and inlfuenza-like Illnesses has made an impact on the area, so much so that Nash UNC Health Care has set up a special flu clinic to deal with the additional cases that are appearing at the emergency department. The flu clinic is staffed between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week.

“Those noticing sudden onset of fever, cough, chills, runny nose, sore throat, fatigue and body aches should contact their primary care provider,” said Kim Langston, director of Nash UNC Health Care’s Emergency Department. “For those needing emergency care, we have reconfigured our Emergency Department operations to best meet the needs of our patients and to expedite care as best as possible.”

The flu clinic is set up in the adult waiting area to manage the surge in flu patients and to separate flu patients from non-flu patients, reducing the risk of cross-contamination, Dorsey Tobias, director of marketing and communications, said in a press release. The arrangement also allows hospital staff to more efficiently serve all patients.

Since the beginning of January, the emergency room has treated 591 patients for the flu, Langston said in the statement. This does not include cases seen at area doctor’s offices, health departments and urgent care facilities. Langston also said that the number of cases being seen daily is increasing and that February is normally the peak month for flu activity. Flu season usually ends in May.

Crystal Hayden, chief nursing officer for the hospital, said the hospital is also seeing a large number of school-age children coming in with flu symptoms.

“Children with flu or flu-like symptoms are seen immediately, day or night, by pediatric providers in the Nash Pediatric Emergency Department,” Hayden said. “We are working with the local school systems to encourage parents to seek treatment for their children as soon as they see flu symptoms and to keep sick children home from school to prevent further spread of the flu.”

Nationwide, at least 63 children have died this season from the flu. Statewide, three children ages 5 to 17 and one child under the age of five have died this season. Most state flu-associated deaths reported since Oct. 1 have occurred in older people: 97 deaths for those 65 and older, 33 deaths in the 50-64 age range and six deaths in the 25-49 age range, according to a press release from Gov. Roy Cooper's office.

Cooper is urging state residents to stay vigilant concerning the flu.

“We‘re in the middle of a nationwide flu epidemic and I’m asking North Carolinians to do their part to stay healthy and stop the flu from spreading,” Cooper said in the statement. “There are a few simple actions we can all take to fight the flu: get your flu shot if you haven’t already, wash your hands and cover sneezes and coughs and stay home from work or school if you get the flu.”

Connie Clark, manager of infection prevention at Nash UNC Health Care, said these efforts are even more important considering how easily the flu spreads.

“The Centers for Disease Control tells us that flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person-to person through droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk,” Clark said. “Flu can also spread when people touch something — a doorknob, elevator button, light switch, countertop, restaurant menu, for instance — with flu viruses on it and then touch their mouth, eyes or nose.”

As a result, all areas of the Nash UNC Health Care continue to operate with visitor restrictions. Children under the age of 12 may not visit patients in the hospital, and anyone feeling sick or having flu-like symptoms is asked not to visit, Tobias said.

Clark offers the following tips to help avoid and stop the spread of flu:

■ Wash hands often: Use soap and warm water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Handwashing is best, but if not possible, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Keep in mind that virus-filled droplets from coughing and sneezing can live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. Wipe down frequently touched surfaces at home, work and school with a disinfectant.

■ Don’t touch your face, especially nose, eyes or mouth.

■ Know the signs of infection: Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. It takes one to four days for flu symptoms to appear once the virus has entered the body.

■ Avoid contact with anyone who has the flu: Flu can be spread one day before any symptoms appear in the carrier and up until 5-7 days after the carrier becomes sick. Anyone recovering should stay home at least 24 hours after fever is gone and the use of fever-reducing drugs has been discontinued.

■ Stay healthy: During flu season, it becomes even more important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, get plenty of exercise and sleep and avoid tobacco to keep the immune system performing at its best.

Susan Rogerson, director of nursing at the Edgecombe County Health Department, also urges residents to take precautions.

“It is not too late to get a flu vaccine if you have not already been vaccinated this flu season,” Rogerson said.

The Nash County Health Department also has some flu vaccines available, said Larissa Mills, coordinator of health services. To get a flu shot, call 252-459-9819 to make an appointment at the Nashville office or 252-446-0027 at the Rocky Mount Office.

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