CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Nearly 400 North Carolinians died from the influenza-associated illnesses during the 2017-18 flu season, a number health officials hope to avoid matching by encouraging people to get vaccinated by the end of October.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies flu season as lasting from October into the Spring, with peak activity from December through February.
Dr. Rupali Shah, an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at the UNC School of Medicine, said it takes about two weeks for vaccines to become fully effective in the body.
She said that is why it is important to get vaccinated before the virus starts to spread.
“The flu is really a combination of a significant number of influenza viruses, and every year the strains are changing, so we have wonderful scientists which predict which strains the following year are going to be the one to watch out for. The new vaccine is made every single year to encompass three to four strains,” Shah said.
“This year three that they really recommend getting vaccinated against H3N2, H1N1, and an influenza B type,” she said.
“The biggest reason to get vaccinated is, one, to prevent those specific strains, but then also to prevent contagious infections so that it doesn’t spread because thousands of people get hospitalized every year for flu-related hospitalizations and even flu-related deaths,” Shah added.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services recorded 391 flu-related deaths last year. The department has a dedicated website at flu.nc.gov which lists information about symptoms and can help users locate a clinic close-by where they can get vaccinated.
Shah said some people worry that they can get the flu from the vaccine, but there is no virus in the standard flu shot which is not a live-attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV).
There is also flu nasal spray, which is a LAIV, and the CDC approved its use this year for many people. The CDC published a list of people who should avoid the nasal spray and stick to the shots.
“That one is a live-attenuated vaccine, so they recommend it for a very specific group, and those who can’t tolerate maybe the egg protein or have had a reaction to the injection in the past,” Shah said.
Children as young as six months can get vaccinated.
The Wake, Durham, Johnston, and Cumberland County school districts have not noticed any increase in illnesses and absences at this point in the school year.
Wake County Public School System spokeswoman Lisa Luten said that many schools are heavily emphasizing hand-washing.
She said that is a year-round effort to prevent sickness in general, and takes into consideration other spreadable infections such as chicken pox.