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The Daily Tar Heel

NC flu activity, deaths increased in December

Overall, 17 people have died from flu since the beginning of October. The next report of flu statistics will be released Thursday.

Dr. Zack Moore, epidemiologist at the N.C. Division of Public Health, said the flu is a seasonal epidemic but began earlier for the third year in a row. He said his office saw high levels of flu activity in December and a peak the last two years around Christmas.

He said he hopes his department saw this year’s peak at the end of December, but students should still get the vaccine because there could still be several months of flu activity.

The vaccine is not fully effective against the main strain of flu this year, the H3N2 virus, said Dr. Timothy Daaleman, vice chairman of the UNC department of family medicine.

“The vaccine this year has been 60 to 70 percent effective, which is not outstanding,” he said.

Moore said about two-thirds of this flu virus isn’t well matched to the vaccine because it had small genetic changes over time, called drift.

“Between the time when the strains for the vaccine were selected back in February, and the time when flu season started, the H3N2 virus had drifted,” he said. “We will not know until much later if the vaccine provides no protection against those strains, or some protection against these strains.”

It does protect against other strains of flu that could appear later on, Moore said.

Some UNC students are getting the flu shot locally using the walk-in services offered at UNC Campus Health Services and at the CVS and Walgreens stores on Franklin Street.

“(I did) to protect myself from the flu, as well as to protect other people who can’t get the vaccine because they are allergic to stuff in the vaccine,” said freshman Ayano Annis.

Senior LaCorey Cunningham got the vaccine because it is required for volunteering at UNC Hospitals. She said it was a relatively easy process, though she’s concerned about the possible side effects.

“If it wasn’t for the requirement, I wouldn’t do it,” she said.

But Devin Holman, a sophomore and co-founder of Vaccine Ambassadors of Chapel Hill, said severe side effects are rare, and misconceptions are often the reason people don’t get vaccinated.

Not everyone needs treatment for flu, but antiviral drugs can be necessary for people with prior medical conditions.

“People who are at risk for having a more severe flu infection such as people with asthma, heart disease, diabetes or other medical conditions, if they think they have the flu, it is important for them to see the doctor,” Moore said.

Holman said the vaccine can still protect against many of the strains of flu, as well as help protect infants and the elderly — who are often at the greatest risk.

Moore said staying at home, washing hands frequently and covering coughs and sneezes are the best means of flu prevention in addition to the vaccine.

“I’m sure everyone right now knows someone who is sick and sees it going around, which hopefully serves as a reminder for people to do what they can to stop it from spreading.”

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