January 7, 2015

Some flu cases reported on Hatteras, but it's not epidemic yet


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday that this season's influenza activity is high or widespread in 43 states, including North Carolina, where the flu was declared epidemic last week.

However, health providers say that Hatteras Island hasn't reached that level yet.

"North Carolina is an epidemic state, but we are not in an epidemic on the island," said Dr. T. Bentley Crabtree Jr. of Vidant Family Medicine in Avon.

"We are not having a lot of positive tests," he added.

Crabtree said only six patients at the health center have tested positive for flu. Two were seen by him and two each were seen by the other two providers, Drs. J. Al Hodges Jr. and Jamie Lee Fountain.

All six of the cases, he said, were among adults who had not gotten a flu shot and had traveled over the holidays.

Gail Covington, a nurse practitioner who is the health care provider at the Hatteras Village Medical Center, said that the center is equipped to test for flu but that she has not had reason to test a patient yet this season.

Numbers on positive tests for flu were not available from the Ocracoke Health Center.

However, if you have been hearing that a lot of folks on the islands are sick, you are right.  Both Crabtree and Covington said they are seeing a lot of patients with flu-like symptoms but who do not have the flu.

Northern Dare County is also reporting patients testing positive for flu -- more than on Hatteras but the region also has a much larger population.

Outer Banks Hospital spokeswoman Amy Montgomery said yesterday that 20 patients in the Emergency Department and more than 30 at Vidant's Urgent Care Center have tested positive for influenza.

Colleen Kakretz, infection preventionist, said that the hospital is "definitely seeing more positives in a shorter amount of time than usual."

Robin Holton, nursing director at the Dare County Health Department, said that the state does not break down influenza cases by county but does report regional statistics from medical offices and hospitals.

For instance, Holton said, Vidant's Hospital Emergency Departments in the region have reported a "record-breaking week" for the last week of the year with 79 patients testing positive for flu.

Outer Banks Hospital has been restricting visitation by children under age 12 since Dec. 29 because of the increasing number of flu cases.

As of Dec. 30, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports that flu had caused 17 deaths in the state -- nine among people 65 and older, three each in the 25-49 and 50-64 age groups, and two among children from 5-17.

All of the health professionals contacted for this article agreed that discussing influenza is more "complicated" this season.

First, the flu vaccine this year is not a good match for the predominant strain, which is H3N2 and is a particularly severe form of the illness  The CDC says that the vaccine is only 33 percent effective in preventing infection.

Also, they all said that the flu is peaking earlier this year.

"In my 14 years here," Crabtree said, "we've always gotten the flu later on Hatteras."

It has usually peaked on the island in late January into early February, he said, and both Covington and Kakretz agreed.

However, no one is sure whether the flu is indeed peaking in the area or if an earlier peak means an earlier end to the outbreak.

Another issue that all health care providers locally, in the state, and nationwide agree on is that it's not too late to get a flu shot and that a 33 percent chance that you are protected is better than zero. They also think that the flu vaccine may provide some level of protection and may reduce complications if you happen to get another strain of the illness.

They recommend flu shots for everyone, but especially stress the importance of the vaccine for people 65 or older; children, especially those under 6; pregnant women, and people with chronic illnesses -- "anything you take medication for," Crabtree said.

It's also important for family members of or anyone in contact with people who fall into the high-risk category to get vaccinated to protect those who are less able to fight off the illness.

Don't fall back on the excuse that you've  never gotten a flu shot and you've never had the flu -- there's a first time for everything.  And don't say you aren't going to get immunized because the flu shot will give you the flu -- it won't.

If you start feeling sick -- with such symptoms as fever, shaking, chills, muscle aches and cramps -- then it's time to see a health care provider.

However, as Covington noted, "We must all be vigilant."

That means practicing hand hygiene -- wash them often -- and stay home if you have symptoms.


For general information on influenza, immunizations, and statistics, go to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Service website, http://www.flu.nc.gov/.

All local health care providers still have flu vaccine. To schedule a flu shot, contact:

Vidant Family Medicine in Avon -- 252-995-3073.
Hatteras Village Medical Center -- 252-986-2756.
Dare County Health Department in Frisco -- 252-475-9320.

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