Worst of flu season could be over

Jan. 16, 2013 @ 09:15 AM

The good news about influenza is that although the disease remains widespread across the country, the worst may be over in the Triad.

For about the last week, fewer patients sought treatment at emergency rooms and clinics for flu symptoms, fueling speculation that the outbreak is weakening. 
“There appears to be what you could call a dromedary hump on the chart,” said Dr. Ward Robinson, Guilford County medical director. “There was a peak and then a decline and then a smaller peak before the latest drop.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “most of the country is now experiencing high levels of influenza-like illness.” The percentage is double the season-over-season percentages since 2008 and on average and the strain is one of the worst.
“We have a slight drop in cases. But this is one of the worst outbreaks I have seen in 11 years,” said Dr. Patricia Triplett, an internist and infectious disease specialist for the Cornerstone practices.
Among outpatient providers, the number of patients seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms has dropped to about 5 percent. It’s about 8 percent in hospital emergency rooms.
“We have seen a slight drop in admissions,” said Cherrie Speagle, infection control manager of High Point Regional Health System.
The hospital, like most others, continues to restrict visitors to those over 18 and hand sanitation is still required, Speagle said. Older people are known to be especially vulnerable to the H3N2 strain. The very young also can be hard-hit by flu.
“People get really sick, and those with underlying conditions like COPD and smokers are hit the hardest,” Triplett said.
With widespread reports of flu, more people are searching for a flu shot. The flu vaccine is still the best protection against flu and supplies are ample as are reserves of the Tamiflu antiviral drug.
“We have seen a bit of a surge,” said Justin Coffill, a pharmacist at the CVS store on Montlieu Avenue, “but we still have plenty of vaccines and we have sent some to other stores.”
The store pharmacy also has dispensed lots of antibiotics and sold other cold and flu remedies, Coffill said. 
“I’ve heard of no places that are running out of vaccines,” Robinson said. “And it is never too late to get a shot.  We have passed the best time, earlier in the season because the flu came out sooner. But there is never a bad time.”
This year’s flu vaccine has proven to be reliable against the most common strain of flu. It takes about two week for the vaccine to take effect.
“It’s effective, but not 100 percent,” Triplett said. “Some people still get sick.”
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Flu Update

Deaths: About 24,000 people die each flu season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  So far, 17 people have died in North Carolina. Of those, 13 were age 65 and older.

Vaccinations: Vaccinations are available by appointment at the Department of Public Health.  Call (336) 641-3245 for appointments at either the 1100 E. Wendover Ave. location in Greensboro or the 501 E. Green Drive High Point location. The vaccine is $25.