Flu season ramps up, illness-related school absences increasing

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Tis the season for infection being spread, resulting in fever, chills and body aches — all symptoms of influenza.

As the flu season continues, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has reported a spike over the last few weeks in the percentage of outpatient visits with flu-like illnesses. At least 22 people have died in the state during this flu season, which runs from October to May, including the first child death reported in the western part of the state on Jan. 24.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services are reporting elevated levels of the flu. Photo courtesy- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services are reporting elevated levels of the flu. Photo courtesy- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The New Hanover County School System is reporting a high number of student absences as result of illness, but there are no disproportionate numbers of influenza in the county.

“Flu season arrived later than usual in January-February, with strains A and B circulating,” said Diane Ferraro, lead nurse at New Hanover County Health Department. “Other factors causing student absences include the usual increase in strep throat this time of year; Norovirus is in our community; and various viruses causing fevers, congestion, respiratory infections, and stomach illnesses.”

School nurses have been alerted to disease trends, while custodial staff members at New Hanover County Schools are being encouraged to include the cleaning of door knobs, desktops, and other surfaces, according to Valita Quattlebaum, chief communications officer for New Hanover County Schools.

Due to an increase in flu-related illnesses, its a good time to remember simple preventative measures to make sure you’re doing everything possible to keep your family in good health.

If you or your child begins to deal with runny nose, sore throat, chills, a low grade fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and dehydration, the best thing to do is stay home. While most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs, if you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, avoid contact with other people except to get medical care, according to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).

If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are in a high risk group (children under five, adults 65 or older, pregnant women) or are very sick, contact your health care provider.

Health officials are also still urging people to get their flu vaccines as the virus continues to spread across most of the country. The latest report (PDF) from the CDC says over 14,000 cases of influenza A have been reported since October.

As a way to help curb the threat of sickness, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services encourages the practice of good hand hygiene. To avoid giving the flu to others, stay home when you are sick, cough or sneeze into tissues and discard them properly, and wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an approved hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.