Cases of respiratory illnesses rise as families prepare to gather for the holidays

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Thursday, December 21, 2023
Cases of respiratory illnesses rise as families prepare for holidays
The NCDHHS reported four more deaths related to the flu.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's the countdown to Christmas Day and families are celebrating in different ways. Jimmy Rodriguez is keeping things low-key, catching up on sleep and his favorite shows

"My family's out on the West Coast, so I like to avoid, like, the holiday travel issues," said Rodriguez.

But Katherine Bres's family plans to celebrate in a big way.

"We're all driving down to Jacksonville, Florida to see my grandparents," said Bres.

10 people making the drive down to Florida. Not playing it small at all and Bres said its because her family made all the precautions including the ones that can help keep them safe during this winter flu season.

ALSO SEE: Flu related deaths in North Carolina rises to 22 for the season, NCDHHS says

"I have definitely noticed that the numbers have gone up, especially in the hospitals. It's definitely a concern. But I know that my side of the family, we're all vaccinated and we stay up to date with our vaccinations," said Bres.

New state numbers show why those precautions are needed. The Department of Health and Human Services weekly report revealed Emergency Department visits for respiratory illnesses are up from just a week ago.

Numbers show the cases are rising. 571 people were admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 and 393 people are in hospital beds with the flu.

Dr. Nicholas Turner is an Infectious Disease Specialist with Duke Health, and treats some of the sickest patients

"It's worth remembering that for the majority of people, these will be unpleasant illnesses. But the vast majority end up being okay and staying at home. There are those select few, of course, who ended up serious enough to land in the hospital," he said.

The state reports 22 flu-related deaths this sick season.

"It can be an outright dangerous thing for an important minority of people. I think what that tells me is, even if there are rare, serious complications like that are worth doing everything we can to prevent it," said Dr. Turner.

A reminder not to take this illness lightly and also why some health leaders are concerned the large gatherings during the holiday can make the already rising numbers spike.

"We expect people to get together and have extended family. So a lot of close contact. So we do expect to see an increase after the holiday," said Ryan Lamb who is the emergency department medical director at UNC Rex.

He said numbers jumped from 8% of emergency department visit for respiratory illnesses to now 20% .He also explained what you can do to help protect yourself.

"Washing your hands is vitally important as you're moving about because that's how you're going to get the virus just touching something and putting it in your nose. And then the other one is close contact," said Lamb. "So if you are sick, you really should be wearing a mask or avoiding the situation. So paying attention to your own symptoms of fever, cough, muscle aches, those are usually signs that you're getting flu or COVID."