map of flu activity for 2018 Week 1
Image courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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By Taylor Knopf

It’s not too late to get the flu shot; that’s what state officials are telling residents after a child died from influenza-related complications in North Carolina last week. This is the first flu-related pediatric death in the state so far. Twelve children have died nationwide from the flu this season.

So far, 11 adult flu-associated deaths were reported in North Carolina, six of whom were people 65 and older, according to state health officials.

DHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen gets her flu shot. Photo credit: DHHS

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the child’s family,” said State Epidemiologist Zack Moore in a press release, which did not provide details about the child’s gender or age.

“If anything positive comes from this tragic loss, we hope it will be that people understand that flu is a serious illness,” he said. “Flu vaccination is the most effective protection against flu, and it’s still not too late to get a flu shot.”

Moore is not releasing any information about the child to protect the family’s privacy, he said.

State health officials recommend contacting a doctor if you think you have influenza and find out if they can get a prescription for an antiviral drug, such as Tamiflu. Treatment can help prevent the virus from becoming more severe.

Last month, Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she expects this flu season to be a difficult one. It’s hard to predict the various strains, she added.

Several days ago the CDC issued a further warning about steadily climbing flu dominated by H3N2, a flu subtype known for its heavy impact, especially on seniors and young children. Almost nine in 10 cases of flu reported to the CDC have been H3N2.

Image courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC has been tracking influenza-associated pediatric deaths since 2004. Since then, the number of child deaths have fluctuated from 37 children in 2011-12 to 171 children in 2012-13. Last flu season, the CDC reported a total of 101 children died from the flu. In past years, about 85 percent of these deaths occured in kids who had not been given the flu vaccination that year.

Image courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for every person older than 6 months. In North Carolina, about 50 percent of the population received the flu vaccine, according to a recent report.

Read more about the flu and where to get vaccinated at www.flu.nc.gov.

UNC Health Care infectious-disease specialist David Weber said it is not too late to get the flu shot. He said there is no amount of vitamins or supplements that are better at preventing the flu than the vaccine.

It’s a myth that a person can contract the flu from the vaccine, he added. It’s not a live virus.

Weber said that many people call every respiratory infection the flu, but that’s not true. Less than half of viral infections are the flu, and the vaccine can’t prevent those, he said.

But the vaccine does work to prevent millions of people from getting influenza, Weber said.

“It’s not perfect,” he said. “But even if you get sick with the flu vaccine, it still may prevent death.”

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He gave a few dos and don’ts for those who may be coming back to work from the holidays feeling under the weather.

It’s best to stay home if you have a fever, he said. But if you must be around others, hand hygiene is important. Alcohol products or soap and water work, he said.

Also stay six feet away from others if you are hacking and sneezing. Weber said that sneeze droplets do not tend to travel more than six feet. It’s also best to sneeze or cough into a tissue held tightly over the nose.

Holding up a hand or sneezing into an elbow doesn’t prevent the droplets from getting away.

Weber also suggests avoiding direct contact with common surfaces, such as doorknobs. Viruses can live from minutes to hours on infected surfaces.

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Taylor Knopf

Taylor Knopf writes about mental health, including addiction and harm reduction. She lives in Raleigh and previously wrote for The News & Observer. Knopf has a bachelor's degree in sociology with a...