BREAKING: Flu Outbreak Closing Schools

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Earlier this evening, it was reported that schools in Ashe County, North Carolina; Washington County, Tennessee; and Elizabethton City, Tennessee, have made the decision to cancel classes Friday (Feb. 8) due to an outbreak of influenza that is sweeping across the Appalachian region.

Local hospitals are also increasing visitation restrictions due to escalating flu risk and data from the Virginia Dept. of Health reveals that the Commonwealth is now in its sixth straight week with the state’s official flu level at “widespread”.  Though there are no closings to report in Virginia, multiple schools and parents have confirmed that this week they began seeing a surge in the number of sicknesses several students are experiencing.

The North Carolina Dept. of Health & Human Services state that six people died in the state from Jan. 27- Feb. 2, bringing the total number of flu-related deaths in the Tarheel State to 65.

Ballad Health released a media message Thursday, stating practically begging people to use precautions and to avoid hospital visits if one in sick.

“Due to a surge in influenza cases, Ballad Health has increased visitation restrictions at all their hospitals this week. Hospitals are asking the following people to refrain from visiting patients at this time:

  • Anyone who has flu-like symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, fever, chills, runny nose, body aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Anyone younger than 18
  • Any groups of more than two adults per patient

“To keep our patients and our community safe, we’re trying to limit the number of visitors who come into the hospital,” said Jamie Swift, director of infection prevention at Ballad Health. “Since Oct. 1, we’ve seen 944 cases of flu this season, but 475 of those were reported over the last week and a half. So as a precaution, we’ve implemented our enhanced visitation restrictions.”

The dominant flu strain being seen here and across the country is Influenza A, H1N1, which generally results in a milder flu season. This year’s vaccine seems to be a good match to the circulating strain, resulting in fewer ED visits and hospitalizations overall as compared to last flu season.

“However, the H1N1 strain can cause serious illness in infants and children as well as the elderly,” Swift said. “To date nationally, there have been 24 pediatric flu-related deaths this flu season. Our visitation restrictions not only limit any potential exposure from the community to our patients and team members, but also limit exposure to those most vulnerable to H1N1 – people under the age of 18 – within our facilities.”

Rather than visit in person, people are encouraged to call the hospital to check on a patient’s condition. It’s also important to remember that people can spread the flu to others for a full a day before they start showing symptoms.

Refraining from touching the eyes, nose and mouth also helps prevent the spread of flu. In addition, it is not too late to receive a flu vaccination, which can decrease symptoms and reduce the risk of cases becoming more serious.

A flu vaccination is recommended for everyone older than 6 months, especially pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

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