The CDC reports North Carolina's flu activity has been elevated from low to moderate, as the state sees a steady rise respiratory viruses over the past month.
"It's considerably higher than it is normally for this time of year. Normally we don't start to see an increase until a little closer to December timeframe. But we've seen, not super high, but higher influenza-illness ED visits than we normally would for this time of year," said Dr. Zack Moore, the State Epidemiologist with NCDHHS.
Three states bordering North Carolina - South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee - report high levels of flu activity.
"As we know with COVID and flu and RSV, all these respiratory infections that what happens in your body does not stay in your body. There is an impact on those around you and your loved ones. So it is important to not only protect your own health, but to protect the health of those that you're around, that you take steps to prevent infections," said Moore.
Earlier this month, Duke Health, UNC Health, and WakeMed teamed up to share concerns over pediatric bed space following an uptick in respiratory viruses like RSV and the flu. Statewide, the percent of emergency department visits for flu-like illnesses increased for a fifth straight week, outpacing the same time period in 2021 and 2020.
Flu is transmissible as COVID, though measures like hand washing and masking can play a role in minimizing the spread of both.
"I don't have any concerns over it, because I got my shot. I trust it to work," said Lesley Brunson, who brought her granddaughter to Pullen Park Monday.
"You want to make sure that you're not doing something to harm your family. And you also want to make sure that you're doing your part as a citizen, as a community person to help others out," added Christopher Boyd, who brought his daughter to the park.
While there is no vaccination for RSV, health officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated for the flu, while taking steps to reach underserved areas. The CDC reported between the 2009-2029 flu season and 2021-2022 flu season (excluding 2020-2021), hospitalization rates compared to white adults were 80% among Black adults, 30% higher among American Indian/Alaskan Native adults, and 20% higher among Hispanic adults.
During the 2021-2022 season, flu vaccination rates were: 54% among Asian adults, 49% among white adults, 42% among Black adults, 41% among American Indian/Alaskan Native adults, and 38% among Hispanic adults.
"We are working to make sure to get the word out through a lot of the sort of mechanisms and partners that we have, some of the relationships that were built up during COVID, to help reach communities where we saw lower vaccination rates or higher disease rates," Moore said.
NCDHHS has a program called "Vaccines for Children", which provides free flu vaccinations for children and pregnant women who are uninsured or underinsured.
While young children are typically not as severely impacted by COVID as adults, that's not the case for flu and RSV. Health officials urge people younger than five years old, sixty five and older, or have pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease to take precautions against the flu.