MOREHEAD CITY — With reports of flu-related deaths in the state on the rise, the County Health Department is recommending those who have not yet received a flu vaccine do so.

“We advise folks to get vaccinated and it will be effective for the season,” Kim Davis, RN, nursing director for the County Health Department, said.

Ms. Davis said she anticipates an increase in the number of flu cases because students just returned to school after a two-week break.

“When kids return to the school system we always see an increase in flu and other viral infections,” Ms. Davis said Monday. “We recommend the same type of prevention measures for students as we do for all people — frequent hand washing, cover your mouth when you cough and if your kids are sick, keep them home.”

Ms. Davis said the County Health Department doesn’t keep an accurate count of the cases of flu in the county because medical providers aren’t required to report all flu cases or influenza-like illnesses.

“When there is a flu-related death of a county resident, we do get that information,” she said. “We have not had any reported this season.”

As of the week ending Dec. 28, the N.C. Division of Public Health had reported 10 flu-associated deaths in the state.

As for overall cases of flu, Ms. Davis said if school nurses or other health care facilities, such as Carteret Health Care and long-term care providers, see an increase in illnesses, “they typically reach out and we can do some educational outreach to remind people to take precautions.”

She added the hospital typically restricts visitations by children during peak flu season. Carteret Health Care announced this week restrictions will take effect Wednesday. No children under the age of 12 should be at the hospital.

In addition, Ms. Davis said the health department monitors weekly flu updates issued by the state.

“They collect data from sentinel providers and agencies that report,” she said. “We are not one of those agencies that report, but this is helpful to look at flu from a state and regional perspective to see trends.”

The health department is offering flu and pneumonia vaccines on a walk-in basis. Those interested in receiving the vaccine may visit the health department from 8-11 a.m. or 1-4 p.m.  Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday or 8-11 a.m. Wednesday.

The health department accepts Medicaid, Medicare Part B, Medicare HMO plans, Blue Cross Blue Shield, United and Cigna. If paying out of pocket, the charge for the flu vaccine is $30 and the high dose flu vaccine is $65. The PPSV23 pneumonia vaccine is also available for $95. Checks, debit/credit cards and cash are accepted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone six months of age and older receive a flu vaccine each year. Flu shots are especially important for people at high risk of complications from influenza, including children younger than 5, adults 65 years or older and pregnant women.

Those with a severe allergy to any flu vaccine component, who had a severe reaction to the vaccine in the past or developed Guillain-Barre syndrome within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine should avoid flu vaccination.

The CDC also recommends two pneumonia vaccines for adults ages 65 years or older. Due to the cost and lack of demand, the health department will not offer the other recommended pneumonia vaccine, Prevnar.

Ms. Davis offered the following tips to avoid spreading or catching the flu and other respiratory illnesses:

•    Frequent hand washing.

•    Cover your cough/sneeze.

•    Stay at home when you are sick or your child is sick.

•    Avoid close contact.

•    Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

•    Get vaccinated.

•    Seek the guidance of your health care professional if you believe you or your child may have the flu.

To learn more about the 2019-20 influenza vaccine and season, visit cdc.gov/flu/season/flu-season-2019-2020.htm.

For more information about pneumonia vaccines, visit cdc.gov/pneumonia/prevention.html.

For more information on flu and/or pneumonia vaccine availability, contact the health department at 252-728-8550.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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