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Flu Deaths Rose Sharply In The Carolinas

flu shot
Credit North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

More than 600 people have died from flu-related illnesses in the Carolinas, according to state health department reports. The flu season officially runs through the end of May. 

Dr. Charles Bregier, a medical director with Novant Health in Charlotte, says this was the worst flu season since the swine flu pandemic in 2009-2010. Reports from each state's health department said 375 people have died in North Carolina and 255 have died in South Carolina from the flu. That represents an increase of 72 percent of flu-related deaths in North Carolina and 171 percent increase for South Carolina over the last flu season. 

“Our emergency departments and our urgent care centers were, and our hospitals were, just you know, absolutely overflowing with flu patients and people suffering from complications of the flu,” Bregier said.

Novant had a 60 percent increase in positive flu tests this flu season over last year. Atrium Health also saw a lot of flu patients. The season peaked in January and February.

Dr. Katie Passaretti, the medical director of infection prevention at Atrium, says the health system did significantly more virtual and e-visits with patients during flu season. Passaretti says she thinks that helped to control the spread. 

“I think it’s something that could be done even when the flu season isn’t as severe because at any point you don’t really want to be bringing super symptomatic people into a waiting room, enclosed areas and what not," she said. 

Both hospitals restricted visitors at points this year. This year’s flu vaccine was 36 percent effective. That number may seem low, but CDC data shows previous years the vaccine ranged from 10 percent effective at its lowest to 60 percent effective at its highest. Both Novant and Atrium employees are required to get the flu shot with limited exceptions.

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