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Hang onto your Kleenex and Ibuprofen and keep faith in your vaccination, because we’ve just entered the peak of flu season.

The season began September 30 and doesn’t end until May 18, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Resources and mid-January through early March seems to be when most people are affected.

And it’s nothing to sneeze at (feel free to do a rim shot on your tissue box): even if you’re in that healthy-as-an-ox category, the flu will cling to you and make your life miserable for a week or more. If your immune system is down or you’re very old or very young, it could kill you.

The body count from 2018 to February 2 stands at 52 in North Carolina; 18 of those happened since January 17 alone.

“This does not represent all flu-associated deaths in the state,” literature from NCDHHS darkly notes, “since many go undiagnosed or unreported.”

Still, that doesn’t mean you need to panic and arrange your funeral — at least not if you’re in decent health. In many of those cases, the flu was a complicating factor in other health problems that led to death – “Flu deaths have a wide spectrum,” as Craven County Health Director Scott Harrelson pointed out, “They primarily effect the immunocompromised.”

“Flu” is the layman’s term for influenza. By definition it is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The virus is highly contagious which is why, if you or your children have it, you need to stay home while it runs its course.

Along with people over 65 and small children, others can be at risk of serious harm through the flu: pregnant women, for instance, or people of any age with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease.

While vaccination is strongly advised by any health agency for anyone over six months, you need to remember that even that won’t make you completely immune to this insidious virus: “We have dealt with several people who had the flu shot and still got the flu,” Harrelson said. “That would lead me to believe some strains were not caught” in the current vaccination being used.

Which means, yes, there is more strains of influenza than one. That’s how evil tends to work, remember. And the same vaccination simply won’t kill them all. The most serious influenzas are called Influenza A and Influenza B (the scientists were apparently too busy to assign interesting names). But according to Sino Biological, even those break down into more categories. “There are 16 different types of HA and 9 different types of NA, therefore there are potentially 144 different subtypes of influenza A viruses,” the biological solution specialist company declares online.

Still, Harrelson said, having the vaccine “is going to get a good 40 percent chance in defeating it.”

He added that, if you haven’t gotten the vaccine, you need to hurry. It takes about two weeks for it to reach full potency.

Onslow County Health Department’s Debbie Murphy agrees that it’s no guarantee a vaccination will stop you from getting the flu – but she adds that it is a guarantee that you won’t suffer as much. With a vaccination, you will shake off the flu in a couple of days rather than the week other sufferers will have to put up with.

Harrelson said if you catch the symptoms early enough, you can lessen the effects by visiting your doctor and getting a good anti-viral medicine . If you’re not quick enough, he said, then at least combat it by staying hydrated and taking over-the-counter meds to fight high fevers.

The number of sufferers and deaths from flu varies year by year (depending in part on which strain strikes). 2017-18 was a particularly hard year, Harrelson said, adding that this year may match it.

Unlike a cold that can sneak up on you, flu generally strikes quickly. The symptoms can (but do not always) include:

• A 100 degree farenheit temperature

• A cough and/or sore throat

• A runny or stuff nose

• Headaches and/or body aches

• Chills

• Fatigue

• Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea, which is most common in children.

NCDHHS advises the best way to prevent flu is through vaccination, but other steps are also important:

Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water and be sure you cover your mouth when you sneeze.

If you get the flu, do not take antibiotics – they will do no good as they fight bacterial, not viral, infections. You will need to see a doctor to get a prescription.

You can learn more about the flu by visiting the state’s flu website at www.flu.nc.gov or by calling the NCDHHS at 919-733-3419.

You can also reach the Craven County Health Department at 252-636-4920.