After a sharp rise in late December, the prevalence of flu cases in North Carolina dropped off last week, according to the weekly report from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
But it’s too soon to say the flu season has peaked, said Dr. Zack Moore, the state’s acting epidemiologist. It’s still early, and influenza cases could rise again, said Moore, who noted that last year’s flu season didn’t peak until March.
“It is encouraging that we didn’t see a continued dramatic rise in flu,” he said. “I hope it means that we won’t have a super high peak of flu activity this season, but it’s just impossible to know what is going to happen.”
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The state’s weekly survey of clinics, hospitals and health departments found that about 1 percent of patient visits were related to flu-like illnesses last week, down from about 3 percent the week before. Moore said part of the decline in the relative number of visits for flu could be related to a spike in other medical problems, such as sledding injuries.
Two more people died of complications of the flu in North Carolina last week, bringing the season total to 10, half of them occurring in the two weeks that ended last Friday, according to the state report. Seven of the 10 people who died were age 65 or older, not surprising given that the most common influenza virus this season – Influenza A H3N2 – tends to affect older people more severely, Moore said.
In a sign that the flu season hasn’t gotten too bad yet, Triangle hospitals have not placed restrictions on visitors aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
“It hasn’t been that severe for us yet,” says Dr. Cameron Wolfe, the infectious disease specialist at Duke Medicine. “But that’s really a week-by-week decision.”
So far, Duke University Hospital has admitted a few patients a day with influenza, Wolfe said.
“But we’re anticipating that really ramps up in the next few days, as it seems as if we’re on the uptick of circulating cases,” he said earlier this week. “The hospital typically bares the brunt of the severe cases a week or so later than the spread through the community.”
In the first 11 days of the year, WakeMed’s seven emergency departments have treated 58 flu patients, compared to 70 in all of December, said spokeswoman Kristin Kelly Gruman.
UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and UNC Rex Healthcare in Wake County have also seen an increase in flu-like illnesses in the past two weeks, especially at the five Rex Express Care clinics in Wake, said spokesman Alan Wolf.
So far, the UNC hospitals haven’t expanded visitor restrictions beyond those put in place in November to protect patients in the neo-natal intensive care unit from seasonal respiratory illnesses, Wolf said. He said the hospitals try to monitor visitors to prevent the spread of illness all year long, but especially now.
“If someone appears sick and is trying to visit a loved one, our staff will explain that they need to go home and wait until they’re feeling better,” Wolf said.
It’s not too late ...
It’s not too late to get a flu shot this season. For more information about flu prevention, including vaccination, go to www.flu.nc.gov/.