By Tim Gardner
The number of North Carolinians who have died during the current flu season climbed to 33 last week, the N.C. Division of Public Health has reported,
Eleven deaths were reported for the week that ended Jan. 11, along with one death from previous weeks.
Of those deaths, seven were those ages 65 and older, four were ages 50 to 64 and one was ages 25 to 49.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services noted that the weekly report count does not represent all flu-associated deaths in the state because many go undiagnosed or unreported.
Additionally, the Division of Public Health does not release the victims’ hometown, county, age or gender for legal privacy reasons.
There were 3,911 flu-like cases reported in N.C. last week, down from 4,843 during the week that ended Jan. 4 and 4,884 during the week that ended Dec. 28.
According to Vicki Stevens, Director of Marketing at the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, based in Boone, treated 33 patients with the flu at the Watauga Medical Center in Boone and Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville since Oct. 1, 2019. Since January 1, the number of flu cases locally have dramatically increased. In only the last 20 days, Watauga Medical Center and Cannon Memorial Hospital has had 29 cases of the flu. There were 85 cases in the ARHS’s outpatient facilities.
So far, the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System has not implemented a Visitor Restriction Policy, although Stevens indicated that could happen in the near future if flu activity continues to rise.
Stevens said medical professionals understand restrictions may pose a hardship for some, but the utmost concern is for the health and safety of all patients and the entire community, and restrictions are implemented only when absolutely necessary.
At this time of the flu seasons, there were 23 deaths in 2018-19, 58 in 2017-18, 15 in 2016-17, one in 2015-16, 97 in 2014-15 and 31 in 2013-14. There was a total of 208 flu-related deaths in the 2018-19 season for N.C., as well as 391 in 2017-18, 218 in 2016-17, 60 in 2015-16, 219 in 2014-15 and 107 in 2013-14.
The traditional flu season runs from Sept. 29 through March 31, though the flu has lingered well into April and May during some seasons.
North Carolina has not been listed among the 19 states, including Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, considered as already reporting high levels of flu.
Doctors and other medical professionals have said one reason why the flu season has been more virulent this time is because it’s the first time since 1992-1993 that influenza B has been identified more often than influenza A nationally.
For North Carolina, there have been 1,679 confirmed cases of influenza B, compared with 928 influenza A, 345 of 2009 A(H1N1) and 25 of A(H3).
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System urges community members who become ill with symptoms of the flu to contact their primary care provider, seek care at a hospital walk-in clinic or an urgent care facility.
Healthcare professionals nationwide said it’s important for those who think they may be afflicted with the flu to avoid going directly to an emergency room unless there are signs and symptoms of severe illness, as it can expose the patient to other illnesses and expose others to other illnesses as well.
Hand sanitizing stations are available at hospital entrances and throughout the buildings.
People who have not yet received the influenza vaccine are urged to do so immediately and to ensure their children have been vaccinated.
Besides the elderly, other vulnerable groups are children younger than 5, pregnant women, people with pre-existing medical conditions, and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care centers.