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Fewer people in North Carolina received flu shots last winter, as deaths increased

Less than half of North Carolina's residents received the flu vaccine last winter, the lowest vaccination rate in six years, and a probable reason why the state was the one that caused the most deaths in a year. decade.

Public health officials pointed to the decline in vaccines released last week by the US Centers for Disease Control. UU To remind residents to get vaccinated against the flu soon, before the temperatures drop and the virus becomes more active.

Data from the CDC showed that influenza vaccines decreased throughout the country, averaging 37.1 percent nationwide last winter, falling in 37 states, down from 43.3 percent in the previous season. flu 2016-2017. That decline is associated with 79,000 flu-related deaths nationwide, the highest number of flu-related deaths in more than three decades.

The decrease was reflected in North Carolina, where vaccination rates have been above the national average. Last winter, the state's vaccination rate fell to 46 percent from 50.8 percent in the 2016-17 flu season, according to the CDC. At the same time, the count of flu-related deaths in the state increased to 391, more deaths related to influenza than in any other year since the flu was reported in 2009 and was constantly monitored in subsequent years.

"Any fall is worrying," said infectious disease specialist David Weber, a professor at the UNC in pediatrics and epidemiology. "The lower the vaccination rate, the more likely you are to have circulating flu."

It's not just that last year less people in North Carolina were vaccinated against the flu, but it's a marked decline in recent years. The state's vaccination rate peaked at 52.4 percent in the winter of 2014-15 and had not been below 50 percent since 2011-12, when it was 46.5 percent.

According to the CDC, 49 million people across the country became ill with the flu last winter and 960,000 were hospitalized. Those numbers are based on computer-generated mathematical formulas, not as a result of the combination of state totals, so there are no corresponding figures for North Carolina.

Why are so few getting vaccinated against the flu?

Another factor that contributed to the high number of deaths from influenza last winter was the predominance of the H3N2 flu strain, which is particularly virulent and resistant to the vaccine. The CDC said the vaccine used last winter was 40 percent effective overall, but only 25 percent effective against H3N2.

The low effectiveness of the flu vaccine and persistent beliefs that it can make you sick are the reasons why very few people were vaccinated last winter, said Keith Ramsey, medical director for infection control at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. . He said that, as a society, we are far from reaching the CDC goal of 90 percent of the population being vaccinated by 2020.

Ramsey repeated the CDC's position that even a relatively ineffective vaccine reduces the severity of symptoms for those who become ill, noting that "some antibodies are better than no antibody."

Several doctors who spoke with The N & O said they regularly see patients who refuse to get vaccinated. Some patients say the vaccine does not work, others believe it can make them sick. Doctors said the flu shot is made up of dead viral particles and can not make someone sick, although it can trigger an immune response that some people may feel like pain and bad weather.

The flu vaccine adapts to circulating strains and is manufactured months before the flu season arrives, which requires conjecture and inaccuracy.

"The flu shot is pretty good, but it's not great," said Paul Cook, an infectious disease specialist at the Brody School of Medicine at the University of East Carolina. "The flu vaccine is kind of like shit."

While its effectiveness is lower than many other vaccines, it has a very high level of safety, Weber said.

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"This is an incredibly safe vaccine," Weber said. "The most important thing is to take the vaccine."

Nasal mists and high pressure jets.

The CDC recommends flu vaccination for everyone 6 months or older, but says the vaccine is particularly important for the elderly, children and anyone with health complications such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. since they are more susceptible to health complications. Following an influenza infection. Last winter, 290 flu-related deaths in the state were people over 65 and seven under 18.

Of those who died, it was known that 42 percent had been vaccinated, and 58 percent were not vaccinated or had no documentation of the flu vaccine, according to the Northern Department of Health and Human Services.

For those who do not like needle injections in the muscle, the CDC recommends a nasal spray flu vaccine for people ages 2 to 49. However, unlike other flu vaccines, nasal fog is made from a live flu virus that can cause an infection and is not recommended for people with certain medical conditions and sensitivities.

In addition, the CDC recommends two vaccines that are administered without a needle and instead uses a high-pressure jet injector that penetrates the skin. Both jet injectors are available for people 18 to 64 years old.

The Department of Health and Human Services of the North has not reported a single death in the current flu season, which began on October 1, and for which the totals are updated once a week. However, at least one person died of flu-related causes before October 1: Kathy Hartenstine, a Wake County school board member whose family said her death in September was caused by flu-related complications.

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