Spring seems to have gotten an early start in North Carolina, but flu season is still at its peak in the Triangle.
Dr. Gregory Mosteller, medical director of Rex Express Raleigh and an emergency physician, said he’s seen an uptick in the number of influenza cases in the past week or two and saw “a tremendous number of flu cases” Sunday night.
People are coming in to Rex urgent care facilities complaining of classic flu symptoms, Mosteller said, including fever, body aches, sinus issues and a cough. During his eight-hour shift Sunday night, Mosteller said he and other physicians saw more than 20 patients with flu-like illness.
“We had the largest number of flu cases last night that I’ve seen in the last few months,” Mosteller said Monday.
The prevalence of flu-like illness has increased in North Carolina since early January, according to the state Division of Public Health. The week ending Feb. 11, flu-like illnesses accounted for 6 percent of visits to clinics, health departments and hospitals surveyed by the state, up from 3 percent two weeks earlier.
There had been 32 flu deaths reported in the state this season, most among people age 65 or older, an indication that the most common influenza virus – Influenza A H3N2 – tends to affect older people more severely.
But Dr. Christian Nechyba of Carolina Kids Pediatrics in Raleigh said he’s seen plenty of flu-like illnesses among children, too. During its walk-in hour Monday, Nechyba said Carolina Kids Pediatrics saw nearly double the patients it normally sees, and many of them complained of flu-like symptoms.
If a child comes to school with a fever, we will send them home!
Gregory Decker, principal of Raleigh’s Sanderson High School, in an email to parents
The spike in cases is likely part of the normal cycle of viruses, Nechyba said. Last year was a relatively mild year for flu, he said. Fewer people getting sick last year means fewer people than normal are immune to the strains circulating this year.
“Usually if you have a milder season like we had last year, you see a more moderate one the next year like we are now,” he said.
The spike in flu cases has been noticeable at schools. Sanderson High School principal Gregory Decker told parents to keep their kids at home if they don’t feel well.
“If a child comes to school with a fever, we will send them home!” Decker wrote Monday. “Students/Teachers need to be fever free for 24 hours before returning to school. We will conduct extra sanitation cleaning in the classrooms.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that the flu vaccine protects about half the people who receive it – better than in some years but not as good as in others. But Nechyba said most of the people with flu at Carolina Kids Pediatrics have not been vaccinated.
Mosteller said it’s not too late to get vaccinated.
“If you haven’t been sick yet, I would definitely recommend getting a flu shot,” he said. “You get partial immunity almost immediately and full immunity in about two weeks.”
But once you have the flu, there aren’t many options, Mosteller and Nechyba said.
In the first 48 hours of symptoms, an anti-viral medication can be prescribed that could help shorten the duration of the infection, and can help those with pre-existing medical conditions that could be complicated by the flu.
But if it’s been longer than two days, the best most people can do is treat symptoms: Rest, lots of fluids and medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are proven to provide some relief to flu-like symptoms.
Nechyba said he doesn’t normally recommend cough suppressants or decongestants for children since they don’t normally work as well as they do in adults.
To prevent spreading the flu, try to stay home from school or work, wash hands thoroughly and cough or sneeze into the elbow and not the hands.
“Certainly we recommend anyone with the flu stay out of school until they’re fever free for at least a day,” Nechyba said. “We don’t want it to spread any more than it already has.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett