The flu season is reaching its peak but public health officials say it is not too late to get vaccinated.
While the timing varies from year to year, seasonal influenza, or flu, activity traditionally extends until around February or March and can run as late as May.
Early vaccination is recommended but there is still time to get vaccinated to protect against the virus as the season hits its peak.
“We’re on a trend upwards and there’s still plenty of flu season left,” said Jacob Farnsworth, communicable disease nurse manager with the Onslow County Health Department.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced this week that influenza activity and flu-related deaths are rising as the peak of the 2016-2017 season nears, with flu cases widespread across the state.
The number of flu-related deaths reported in the state had reached seven as of the week ending Dec. 31 and there may have been others as many flu-associated deaths are underdiagnosed or go unreported.
In Onslow County, the number of flu cases has remained relatively steady compared to the same time last year.
Onslow Memorial Hospital officials said the hospital has not seen an increase in admissions related to the flu diagnosis and in comparison to November and December 2015, they have seen about the same number of flu tests with a slightly lower number of positive results.
According to the hospital numbers, there were 176 flu tests performed in November 2016, with four being positive, compared to 109 tests in November 2015 with 12 positive.
In December 2016 there were 274 flu tests performed with 10 positive compared with 271 tests in December 2015, with 12 being positive.
Gloria Horne Powers, OMH infection prevention manager, said education is key during the season to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“Our flu campaign starts early and we stress immunization with the flu vaccine for staff and patients, as well as placing posters throughout the facility to remind everyone of the flu season and prevention,” she said. “Education is very important during this time of the year to prevent the spread of germs.”
Health officials stress the importance of washing hands frequently to help protect against the spread of the flu, covering coughs and sneezes, and, if you are sick with the flu, stay home until you have been fever free for at least 24 hours.
If you haven’t already, officials also suggest getting a vaccine. Flu can be a serious illness, especially for adults over the age of 65, children younger than 5, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
Farnsworth said that while they don’t have specific number, that health department seems to have seen fewer people getting vaccinated this season, particularly when it comes to those who may use the high dose vaccine for 65 and over.
At the same time, Farnsworth said that there are more options than ever for those seeking vaccines, from the health department to private physicians to many pharmacies.
Vaccinations are offered at the health department on a walk-in basis daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Thursdays, from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., immunizations can be done by appointment.
For more information on the flu, go to flu.nc.gov.