Region 4 consists of Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. All eight of the states reported widespread activity of the flu. There have been three children’s deaths due to flu-like symptoms in the eight states since Sept. 30.
Kim Bishop, Bradley County Health Department nursing supervisor, said the flu season is earlier than it has been in recent years.
“The flu comes in waves. Sometimes we do not get the flu until February or March. It has hit early this year,” Bishop said. “... We know the flu vaccine available this year is able to take care of the current circulating flu.”
Bishop urged people to receive the vaccination. She said flu cases are increasing in frequency. The Christmas season brings both good tidings and the spread of germs, according to Bishop.
“Sometimes when kids come home from school it helps the flu calm down for a couple of weeks,” Bishop said. “The flu has a tendency to spread over Christmas break due to traveling.”
Unforeseen consequences can occur due to traveling.
“Adults are more likely to contract the flu when they are traveling. They are used to the germs in their places of work. When they travel they become more susceptible to the flu,” Bishop said.
Children who are home-schooled are more likely to catch the flu while traveling, as well.
“These children are not in the school environment. When they get to Grandma’s house, they are around other kids and they get sick,” Bishop said.
Pharmacies and health centers like BCHD have vaccinations. Bishop said vaccination medication at the health department is currently free. The only price is the vaccination fee. The cost for children is roughly $13.75, with adults costing a flat $20.
“The fee will slide if you have no insurance. It could slide all the way down to zero,” Bishop said.
BCHD is acting as a sentinel site for the flu in Tennessee. Health centers across the state take samples from patients with flu-like symptoms. Samples consist of medical personnel swabbing the patient’s mouth and sending it to the state lab. Health establishments across the state are participating.
Sentinel sites act as early detection centers.
“We are trying to find flu cases early to warn the population. It also allows the state lab and CDC to communicate to see if the flu vaccine and the type of flu are the same strands,” Bishop said. “Sometimes the flu will mutate, but so far this year the vaccination matches the flu.”
Two weeks are needed for a vaccination to reach full effectiveness.
“If you get your shot and get immunized then you should be OK — unless you come in contact with the flu during the two-week window,” Bishop said. “A mild form of the flu can be contracted at the two-week window.”
Bishop reiterated the vaccination itself does not give patients the flu.
Soreness, headaches, nausea and fever are mild reactions and common side effects to flu vaccines. These side effects lead some to believe the flu vaccine has given them the flu. Contracting the flu due to a vaccination is not possible, according to Flu.org.
Several actions can be taken to avoid spreading germs, according to Bishop. Her top two methods of germ reduction are hand washing and using the arm to cover coughs and sneezes.
“Try not to put your hands in your mouth. Little kids’ hands stay in their mouth, which is why they are more likely to become sick. If you are going somewhere with [shopping] carts, then wipe the handles off,” Bishop said.
Bishop advised carrying tissues to cover excessive coughing.
“Usually we do not see this amount [flu outbreak] until after the New Year’s. When people get the flu this year, they are being kicked down for several weeks,” Bishop said. “People cannot be out from work this long. Most do not have two weeks of sick leave to spend on beating the flu.”
Cleveland and Bradley County schools reported controlled flu numbers as of this morning.
“Last week we had some numbers out, but they were little pockets throughout the schools,” said Doug Moore, supervisor for district services and public information. “Cleveland High School had a number out in the sophomore class, but those numbers were fairly isolated.”
Moore said flu outbreaks heated up near the end of last week. Two days off from school for the weekend seemed to have cooled down the outbreaks.
Sammie Humphrey, administrative assistant to Johnny McDaniel, county schools director, said county schools have experienced no major outbreaks. Principals and administrators are monitoring attendance.