North Carolina influenza rates among highest in country
North Carolina is one of seven states with a "very high" rate of influenza-like illnesses, according to the latest CDC data.
- More than 6% of patients who visited emergency departments between Oct. 30 and Nov. 5 had flu-like symptoms, compared to a mere 1.5% last year and 1.1% two years ago.
Context: Flu season begins in October, and illnesses usually peak between December and February.
Why it matters: The data suggests this year's flu season is hitting the U.S. earlier than in previous years, especially in the South, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.
- Flu activity levels haven't been this high this early since the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
- The spike also coincides with a higher rate in RSV cases compared to previous years and the continued spread of COVID-19.
What's happening: With multiple respiratory viruses swirling, some Triangle hospitals' intensive care units and emergency departments are operating at max capacity.
- "Things are a little out of whack from what we would consider normal," state epidemiologist Zack Moore told Axios.
UNC Health spokesman Alan Wolf told Axios that its Triangle hospitals have seen "an unusual (and early) surge of flu and RSV in our hospitals, urgent care clinics and primary care practices."
- At UNC Rex Healthcare hospitals in Wake County there have been more than 850 positive flu cases in November so far. At UNC Health's campus in Chapel Hill, 400 flu cases were confirmed last week — a doubling from the week before.
- In comparison, there were just 175 cases last November at UNC Rex. And in 2020, there were less than 10 cases.
The big picture: Six other states — all in the Southeast — and Washington D.C. have a "very high" rate of flu activity, the CDC reported.
- Yes, but: That rate doesn't account for confirmed cases of the flu, only patients who present with symptoms that could mean they have the flu.
The bottom line: A flu vaccine is the most effective protection against the virus. Find a vaccination location here.
What's next: Moore is hopeful that numbers will continue to level off soon but warned we could see another spike later in the season.
- The state will release updated numbers Wednesday.
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