Doctors describe “an explosion of flu”; virus overtakes COVID in hospitals

RALEIGH, North Carolina — In some hospitals in the Triangle region, more patients are being treated for influenza than for COVID-19 in recent days. Last week, flu cases accounted for about 5% of all people admitted to hospitals in the state.

“COVID is trending down; flu is going up dramatically,” said Dr. David Weber, infectious disease specialist at UNC Hospitals.

Dr. Rodney McCaskill, chief medical officer at UNC-Johnston Health, said: “The number of flu cases is way over COVID right now.”

The flu has been on a steady streak since Labor Day, which is an unusually early start for flu season.

“We’re just a lot earlier,” Weber said. “Typically, we start seeing cases from mid-November to late November, peaking around Thanksgiving and Christmas and peaking in February.”

At the 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 pandemic-related mask-wearing, the onset of cooler temperatures and indoor gatherings, including in schools, and people delaying the getting a flu shot.

Weber says they have seen “over the past two to three weeks an explosion of the flu. The cases have multiplied.”

At Duke Health, in the last full week of October, there were 155 lab-confirmed cases of influenza, up from just 31 the previous week.

“[It’s the] same story, different day. [We are seeing] continued capacity crises and a continued influx of RSV cases,” says Dr. Sameer Kamath, Medical Director of Duke Children’s Hospital.

For the week ending Sunday, November 6, WakeMed reported 1,219 people who tested positive for the flu, an increase of nearly double from the previous week. Twenty-six people were hospitalized with the flu.

Through Oct. 29, the state had reported five adult flu deaths 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:

  • Staying home when you are sick until you have been fever free for at least 24 hours
  • Wash hands frequently, preferably with soap and water
  • Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue, then dispose of the tissue quickly
For more information about the flu and to find out where you can get the flu shot in your community, visit the NCDHHS website.

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