Flu hits Durham hard, early
The flu is hitting Durham hard and earlier than normal, putting the elderly and those who haven’t been vaccinated at increased risk for infection, Durham health officials said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Duke University Health System hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers continue to temporarily restrict patient visits due to a “sharp rise” in flu infections in the Triangle.
“There has been a marked increase in the number of persons testing positive for influenza in Durham County,” Rebecca Freeman, assistant public health director at the Durham County Department of Public Health, said Wednesday. No flu-related deaths in Durham have been reported this season.
Freeman said the 2012-13 flu season started early, and that the predominant strain circulating is H3N2, considered by health officials to be “particularly virulent.”
“Though most flu seasons peak around January or later, there was a noticeable increase in cases reported during the last week of November,” she said.
Health officials warn people to look for common symptoms – fever, cough, runny nose, head and body aches and fatigue. Certain people, most commonly the elderly or those with compromised immune systems, may develop vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia or other complications.
The uptick in flu has intensified recommendations that the public be vaccinated.
The Durham County Department of Public Health continues to offer free flu shots, and will do so throughout the season. The clinic is open daily from 8:30 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. at 414 E. Main St. Walk-ins are welcome.
Since Aug. 1, the department has given 2,265 flu shots. This year’s vaccine is “well-matched” to the strains of flu being seen in Durham and the rest of the state, “so it is strongly recommended that anyone over 6 months old be vaccinated,” Freeman said.
In addition, officials urge people to follow these precautions to avoid spreading the cold and flu:
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Wash hands regularly with soap and water.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then discard it promptly.
Most people who get the flu recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people develop life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, as well as bronchitis and sinus and ear infections.
The flu can make chronic health problems worse, Freeman said. People with asthma, for example, may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and the condition of people with chronic congestive heart failure may worsen.
At Duke-affiliated hospitals and clinics, visitors are being limited to immediate family or designated caregivers 18 and older, and to those who have no fever, cough or other flu-like symptoms.
Temporary initiatives include the following:
- Patients may receive no more than two adult visitors at a time.
- Children under 18 aren’t allowed to visit hospitals or wards without prior approval from healthcare providers and for special circumstances.
- Visitors are urged to perform hand-washing frequently, including when entering and leaving the building. Foam dispensers are available throughout the building, and are effective against the flu.
- Visitors with fever, cough or other flu-like symptoms should stay home.
- Emergency rooms, urgent care centers and clinics will seek opportunities to segregate potential flu patients if facility designs allow.
The restrictions apply to Duke University Hospital, Durham Regional and Duke Raleigh hospitals, the Duke Ambulatory Surgical Center and the James E. Davis Ambulatory Surgical Center.
Duke officials said the restrictions are temporary, and will be reviewed as the state’s flu outbreak abates.
For more information about the Durham County Department of Public Health’s flu clinic, call 919-560-7608.