Doctors describe ‘flu explosion;’ virus outnumbers COVID in hospitals

Doctors describe ‘flu explosion;’ virus outnumbers COVID in hospitals

RALEIGH, NC β€” Some hospitals in the Triangle area have been treating more patients for the flu than for COVID-19 in recent days. Last week, flu cases accounted for about 5% of all people admitted to hospitals across the state.

“Covid is on the decline; influenza is increasing dramatically,” said Dr. David Weber, an infectious disease specialist at UNC Hospitals.

dr. Rodney McCaskill, chief medical officer of UNC-Johnston Health, said, “The number of cases of influenza right now has greatly exceeded that of COVID.”

The flu has been on the rise since Labor Day, an unusually early start to flu season.

“We’re just way ahead of schedule,” Weber said. “Classically, we start seeing cases in mid-to-late November, a spike around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a peak in February.”

At UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill on Monday, there were 20 people with the flu, 15 with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and 22 with COVID-19.

Doctors attribute the outbreak to a combination of the end of widespread mask-wearing associated with the pandemic, the onset of cooler temperatures and indoor gatherings, including in schools, and people delaying flu shots.

Weber says they’ve seen “in the last two to three weeks an explosion of the flu. The cases have been increasing.”

At Duke Health, there were 155 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu in the last full week of October, compared to just 31 the previous week.

“[It’s the] same story, another day. [We are seeing] constant capacity crises and a continuous influx of RSV cases,” says dr. Sameer Kamath, medical director of Duke Children’s Hospital.

For the week ending Sunday, Nov. 6, WakeMed reported 1,219 people tested positive for the flu, nearly double the week before. Twenty-six people were admitted to the hospital because of the flu.

As of Oct. 29, the state has reported five flu deaths among adults and one child who died from the virus.

“These viruses survive with lower temperatures and lower humidity,” Weber pointed out.

Precautions you can take to protect yourself from spreading the flu and other viruses include:

  • Stay home when you are sick until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours
  • Wash your hands often, preferably with soap and water
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then discard the tissue immediately
For more information about the flu and to find out where you can get a flu shot in your community, visit the NCDHHS website.

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