By Tim Gardner
Officials from the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, based in Boone, released the following numbers of patients have been treated for Influenza (flu) at its hospital facilities from Sept. 30, 2019 through Jan. 9, 2020: 34 at Watauga Medical Center on Boone and 29 at Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville.
The Watauga and Linville hospitals reported only one flu case combined this week from the previous week.
There were 4,836 flu-like cases reported throughout North Carolina last week, down from 4,883 during the week that ended Dec. 28 and 3,360 during the week that ended Dec. 21.
Fortunately, this region has not suffered any fatalities stricken with the disease. But sadly, the number of North Carolinians who have died during the current 2019-2020 influenza (flu) season more than doubled over the past week to 21. That number included the state’s first youth victim, the N.C. Division of Public Health reported Thursday, Jan.9.
Nine deaths were reported in North Carolina by the State’s Department of Health and Human Services for the week that ended Jan. 4, along with two deaths from previous weeks.
Of those deaths, five were those ages 65 and older, three were ages 50 to 64, two were ages 25 to 49 and one was age 5 to 17.
The NCDHHS cautions that the weekly report count does not represent all flu-associated deaths in the state because many go undiagnosed or unreported.
The division does not release the victims’ hometown, county, age or gender for legal privacy reasons, but did note that the youth who died was from the western part of the state.
Of the 21 who have died in the state, 14 were age 65 and older, three were 50 to 64, three were 25 to 49 and one from 5 to 17.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported there had been at least 2,100 deaths nationwide from the flu, including 27 deaths among children, as of Jan. 4.
Still, North Carolina has not been listed among the 19 states, including Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, considered as already reporting high levels or near-epidemic levels of flu.
CDC officials said one reason why the flu season has been running rampant at this time interval is because it’s the first time in more than twenty-five years (1992-1993 flu season) that influenza B has been identified more often than influenza A nationally.
In North Carolina, there have been 1,473 confirmed cases of influenza B, compared with 781 influenza A, 284 of 2009 A(H1N1) and 24 of A(H3).
State health officials have said that they expect flu season to reach its peak of victims during the next two weeks.
Influenza A is typically worse or more severe, particularly among older adults or people with underlying medical problems. Influenza B tends to be less severe and usually inflicts children more than adults.
Flu vaccine is recommended for all individuals age 6 months and older.
The traditional flu season runs from Oct. 1 through March 31, though the flu has lingered well into April and through the end of May during some seasons.
At this time of the flu seasons, there were 21 deaths in 2018-19, 36 in 2017-18, 11 in 2016-17, none in 2015-16, 67 in 2014-15 and 23 in 2013-14.
There were 208 flu-related deaths in the 2018-19 season for North Carolina, as well as 391 in 2017-18, 218 in 2016-17, 60 in 2015-16 and 219 in 2014-15.
Besides the elderly, other vulnerable groups are children younger than age 5, pregnant women, people with pre-existing medical conditions, and those living in nursing homes and other long-term care centers.