Flu cases continue to increase in North Carolina

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- North Carolina's flu season took a big turn for the worse over Christmas week.

In a briefing to the media Tuesday, state health officials said, only eight flu deaths had been reported through the week of Dec. 20, but nine people died the following week.

"The intensity is different every year. This year does seem to be more intense than recent seasons," said Dr. Zack Moore, Chief Epidemiologist at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Hospitals reported that more than 950 patients in North Carolina tested positive for the flu during Christmas week. That's up from about 350 the week before.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said flu had reached the epidemic level.

State health leaders said Tuesday with the recent spike in flu cases, the worst is yet to come.

Now, local hospitals are beefing up restrictions to protect patients.

WakeMed became the latest major medical center to change visitation rules due to the flu. The move means every major hospital from the Triangle to the Sandhills has flu restrictions in place.

The rules at WakeMed means there will be no visitors under 12 years old, patients can only receive two adult visitors at a time, and sick visitors are not welcome.

"The major strain of flu so far this year has been H3n2", said Dr. Megan Davies, Chief of the Epidemiology Section at North Carolina's Division of Public Health.

The H3n2 flu strain is not well-matched against this year's flu vaccine, which makes the shots less effective. However, experts still recommend getting vaccinated.

The simplest things could be the best flu fighters: Wash your hands, avoid contact with the ill, and stay home from work or school if you're feeling symptoms

"This is a very difficult season that we're entering and it is critical that everyone remembers their own responsibility", said DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos.

State health officials said they do believe North Carolina has reached the peak of its flu season. However, the number of deaths tends to lag behind peak activity.

Get more information at www.flu.nc.gov.

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