By KEITH UPCHURCH
DURHAM – The flu is making itself known in Durham – earlier than last year – but the good news is that this year’s vaccine can handle it, according to Durham health officials.
A spot check of Durham hospitals Tuesday showed that they’re seeing “a few positive cases of the seasonal flu,” according to Eric Nickens, spokesman for the Durham County Department of Public Health.
“As we know, last year’s flu season was very mild, so an increase in reported cases is kind of expected this year,” he said.
No figures were available on how many Durham residents have been diagnosed with the flu this fall, or whether any have been hospitalized.
But no flu-related Durham deaths have been reported, Nickens said. So far, only two people in North Carolina – both in the Triad – have died from the flu. One was at high risk for the flu because of old age, and the other person had no known risk factors for getting the disease. Officials have released no other details about those deaths.
Nickens said this year’s flu shots will protect people from the three biggest strains of the virus expected this season, including the H3N2 virus, which kills an estimated 36,000 people in the United States each year.
The flu season usually peaks in late January or early February, Nickens said, “so for anyone who has not gotten their vaccine, this is the time to take care of it.”
Most people aren’t fully protected until two weeks after the shots, but the protection then lasts for several months.
A common misconception is that the flu shot can give you the flu, but Nickens stressed that’s not true.
“That’s because the vaccine is made with an inactivated or killed flu virus,” he said. “Nine times out of 10, there’s something else that has been brewing in the body, and you just happen to fall ill to it at an inopportune time [after getting the shot],” he said.
The health department is offering free flu shots, and in recent days, an average of 30 to 40 people daily have shown up to get them. Anyone over 6 months old can get one at the immunization clinic, lobby seven.
“People can walk in without an appointment,” Nickens said.
Health officials offer these tips to cut flu risk:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue away.
- Wash hands often with soap and warm water.
- Stay home if you or a family member has flu-like symptoms. Don’t go to work or send a child to school.
- Remain home at least 24 hours after a fever is gone.
“The last thing you want to give to a loved one over the holidays is the flu,” Nickens said. “So go ahead and eliminate that risk. Get the flu shot.”