Officials: Region faring normal flu season so far

Glen Needham, Sentara Patient Care

By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A “moderately severe” flu season is ramping up nationwide, but northeastern North Carolina appears to be faring normally through it so far, based on reports from health officials Wednesday.

Glen Needham, Sentara Albemarle's director of Patient Care Services, said the hospital has had 91 confirmed cases of the flu since the season started in October. Sixteen people with the flu have been hospitalized, though other health conditions could have forced their hospitalization, he noted. Needham didn’t immediately know how many of those 16 were still hospitalized.

Those numbers are comparable to prior flu seasons, Needham said. But that's not to say the hospital is taking this season lightly. Needham and hospital spokeswoman Annya Soucy said the hospital is encouraging people entering the hospital to wear masks and to take other hygienic steps to reduce viral transmissions.

Albemarle Regional Health Services spokeswoman Jill Jordan also reported that, based on state data, there have been 340 cases of “influenza-like illnesses” across its seven-county service area. That area includes Pasquotank, Perquimans, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Bertie and Gates counties. That's not even a third of the 1,182 total cases reported in the region for 2016-17, but flu seasons tend to peak in February and March.

Perhaps keeping infections in check, ARHS has administered 2,153 flu vaccines since Sept. 1, compared to the 2,242 it administered for all of the 2016-17 flu season.

This year's flu season may not feel normal to some parts of the country, however. In its most recent “FluView” update, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 26 states are experiencing high flu activity, while 46 states are facing widespread activity. The proportion of health visits for the flu or flu-like illness rose to 5.8 percent, up from 4.9 percent in the CDC's last update.

“These indicators are similar to what was seen at the peak of the 2014-15 season, which was the most severe season in recent years,” the CDC reported on its website. The CDC also reported that, nationwide, the rate of flu-associated hospitalizations is 13.7 per 100,000 people. That's higher than the 12.6 per 100,000 reported during 2014-15 season, it added.

Complicating treatment for the worst flu cases, The Associated Press reports there's a shortage of medical fluids used to administer medications in hospitals. Tight supplies of saline and nutrient solutions only became tighter after hurricanes hit Puerto Rico and devastated the whole island and disrupted fluid manufacturing there. Puerto Rico is a key U.S. supplier of those medical fluids. 

Needham said Sentara, as a large health care system, worked to ensure its fluid supplies weren't disrupted. He also said the hospital is conserving use of medicinal fluids where it doesn't impact patient health. Some drugs can be administered with less fluid than others, he noted.

With months left of flu season, Needham and Jordan encouraged people, if they haven’t already, to get a flu vaccine. Getting a flu shot through ARHS costs $35; it is sometimes covered by insurance, she noted.