Flu who?

Got your shot? Flu shots are available at various locations throughout WNC. photo by Jonathan Welch

Flu season hit Buncombe County early and hard this year, with Mission Hospitals repeatedly warning all but immediate family members not to visit hospital patients and the county Health Department seeing an increase in flu cases.

“The current season is most closely comparable to the 2007-08 season,” staffer Sue Ellen Morrison explains. “We are seeing more reports than that year … and it's started about one week earlier.”

But at this writing, flu season still seemed to be peaking in February, based on reports the Health Department receives from UNCA, the VA Hospital, the county's own clinic and other local care providers. And in that way, at least, “It’s a typical year — it's more traditional last year, when it peaked in April,” she notes.

The good news, says Morrison, is that this year’s flu vaccine is “a very good match,” working in all but about 7 percent of cases so far. Each year’s vaccine includes three strains of virus, and while a fourth has emerged this year, it seems to have caused only a small number of cases.

The third week of February showed a decrease in outpatient visits for flu-like symptoms — the first drop this year — though emergency-room visits increased during the same period.

The Health Department encourages people to get the flu vaccine and keep hospital visits to a minimum — washing hands frequently, covering their coughs and “staying home when they're sick — that's a big one,” notes Morrison, adding, “We don't want to expose people unduly.”

Health officials won't be able to truly assess the season until it’s over, and to some degree, every flu season requires people to roll with the punches.

“We won't know until afterward, when we can look back at all the data and assess what we could've done differently,” she says, stressing that getting vaccinated and following basic flu precautions is still the best bet, especially in such a tough season.
— D.F.

State health assessment finds most CTS neighbors not at risk

Back on Feb. 17, the N.C. Division of Public Health completed its lengthy public health assessment process for the area surrounding the former CTS of Asheville plant on Mills Gap Road in Skyland. The final report differs little from the draft released in January 2010.

“This is basically the same document,” says lead author Sandy Mort. “We made a few minor text changes, but no substantive changes other than an appendix that identifies comments from the public and [other] agencies.”

Based on samples collected from 1990 through 2008, the report draws five conclusions concerning public health near the site, where electrical components were manufactured from 1952 to 1986.

One conclusion is that while residents who used a few highly contaminated private wells could perhaps face increased cancer risk or other health impacts, in most cases, “groundwater contaminants, including the volatile organic compounds trichloroethylene and vinyl chloride, are not expected to harm people’s health.”

The agency also repeats its earlier determination that cancer rates for people living within a one-mile radius of the CTS property aren’t elevated. “One mile is the largest area we thought could be impacted by the site,” Mort explains.“We looked at all the data that were available at the time the assessment was started. We also issued a health consultation that looked at all the private-well data collected by EPA up through January 2010.”

Meanwhile, residents of 16 neighboring households filed a lawsuit in federal court Feb. 22 accusing CTS of illegally releasing more than 1 million pounds of hazardous chemicals into the local environment using an illegal dumping system in a lawsuit brought by. Much of the originally 54-acre CTS property was sold and redeveloped as Southside Village, leaving a fenced, roughly 9-acre site where the former plant stands.

Remediation has moved forward fitfully over the years. A soil-vapor extraction system — installed in 2006 to remove and treat contaminants present in the soil beneath the plant — was unexpectedly shut down last May when thieves removed copper pipes. The system has not been repaired, further aggravating CTS neighbors’ long-standing concerns for their health and safety. The EPA maintains that sampling must be done to determine whether the extraction system is still needed.

“Nothing has changed,” says resident Tate MacQueen. “Things have only grown worse. It’s inexcusable.”
— S.A.

The health assessment is available at the N.C. Division of Public Health website: http://bit.ly/gPkjBL. The agency advises residents with health concerns to contact their health-care provider and the N.C. Division of Public Health (919-707-5900; e-mail: nchace@ncmail.net).

Please follow us on Twitter and submit WNC health-and-wellness info with the hashtag #avlhealth or by e-mail to mxhealth@mountainx.com.

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