21 new flu deaths in North Carolina; 67 total for the season

Rebecca Gillespie
Biologist Rebecca Gillespie holds a vial of flu-fighting antibodies at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in Bethesda, Md. Despite 100 years of science, the flu virus too often beats our best defenses because it constantly mutates. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — On Thursday the State Health Department revealed the flu claimed the lives of 21 people in the past week, bringing the total deaths in North Carolina to 67 this flu season.

At least one doctor thinks this year’s flu season could get worse before it gets better.

Jessica Dixon, the interim director of infection prevention at Wake Med Health and Hospitals, says the flu has reached an epidemic level.

Dixon said this week Wake Med hit a record number of flu tests.

“On Monday our lab ran the most flu tests they’ve ever run in a single day. We had over 200 tests run,” she said.

Dixon says the incubation period for the flu is one to four days. In the four days prior to Monday, many people were home from work of school because of the snow storm. Which is why Dixon thinks more cases of the flu could develop now that people are back into their normal schedules.

“People weren’t even around each other that much, and yet we are seeing record amounts of flu. So I’m interested to see what will happen in the next week or so as people have come back to work, and back to school,” said Dixon. “It would not surprise me if we don’t see even more flu next week.”

One of the best ways to protect yourself is to get a flu shot. With roughly 12 weeks of flu season left, Dixon says there is still time to get vaccinated.

“You have to remember that it takes two weeks for it to come to full effect. If you get it today, it is not going to protect you from your kid who started coughing last night, but certainly it’s not too late,” said Dixon.

Although Dixon says some doctors offices and clinics have run out of the vaccine Wake Med has not. Another way to safe guard against the flu; washing your hands.

Dixon says it’s also a good idea to avoid people who are sick, and if you are sick, you should stay away from other people. She says adults can be contagious up to a week after being diagnosed, and children can remain contagious even longer.

“I can’t stress that enough. If you’ve been sick, don’t rush back to work, or rush the kids back to school. You need to stay home at least 24 and really a good 48 hours after you have resolution of your fever,” Dixon said.

Here in North Carolina, most of the victims who have died of the flu have been over the age of 65.

“I’m really concerned about how many people are opting not to vaccinate. Being vaccinated is going to assure you to have at least a shorter duration of illness and probably a milder flu,” said Dr. Jennifer Dumas with American Family Care.

Even though it’s recommended you get a flu shot, health officials say this year’s vaccine is, at most, 30 percent effective.

Some local hospitals have released the number of confirmed flu cases they’ve seen over the past few weeks:

UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill:

For the week of Jan. 7-13, there were 126 lab-confirmed cases of flu at UNC Hospitals, not including UNC REX.
For the previous week of Dec. 31, 2017 – Jan. 6, there were 86 lab-confirmed cases.

WakeMed:

There have been 943 positive flu tests since the beginning of the year (Jan. 1-23).

  • Jan. 1-10: 257 positive flu tests
  • Jan. 11-20: 491 positive flu tests, which was a 91 percent increase compared to the previous 10 day period (Jan. 1-10)
  • January 21-23: 195 positive flu tests

Rex Hospital:

A total of 706 patients have been treated for the flu at Rex facilities – 538 at REX Express Cares across Wake County and 168 at UNC REX Emergency Department.

  • Jan. 1-10: 202
  • Jan. 11-20: 371
  • Jan. 21-23: 134

Womack Army Medical Center:

There have been 116 positive flu results this month, compared to 31 in January 2017.

  • Jan. 1-10: 35
  • Jan. 11-20: 54
  • Jan. 21-23: 27

Womack released this statement to CBS North Carolina regarding the jump from last January to this January:

…while the numbers seem higher, it should be taken into account that there is a lot more awareness and coverage of the flu, so the increase could also be reflecting more people going in, getting care and getting tested for the flu instead of just toughing it out on their couches at home.”