Worst is yet to come in deadly flu season, NC health secretary says

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Even after 26 deaths this season in North Carolina, the worst of the flu is still to come, according to data available Jan. 6.

That’s double the number reported this time last year and 218 people died during that season.

Mandy Cohen, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services secretary, calls the flu a “burden” – certainly when it comes to deaths and also the financial toll it takes.

“We see both indirect medical costs as well as lost job productivity,” she said.

In a presentation on Tuesday to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services, Cohen pointed to national statistics from last year:

  • $87 billion in lost productivity
  • $10 billion in direct medical costs
  • 50,000 deaths
  • 700,000 hospitalizations

She said the prevalence in the number of flu cases in North Carolina this year is slightly higher compared with previous years.

“The worst, if you will, is yet to come,” she told the lawmakers.

Flu cases usually peak in February and experts believe it will be earlier this year.

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The predominant virus is “Influenza A.”

There’s still time to get a flu shot, which Cohen said helps protect people around you and patients make you less sick if they do become ill.

Cohen said the vaccine is a better match this year compared with last year’s.

“While it may be covered by the flu vaccine, it’s an intense virulence and we’re seeing folks get sick and sicker,” she said.

There is no shortage of the vaccine.

A state program launched last year targeting “shot dodgers” and has shipped 358,000 doses around the state so far.

Still, a lack of other resources makes it difficult to protect patients, according to Dr. Gregory Murphy (R-Pitt).

“Hospital systems across the state are being stressed because we have such a severe nursing shortage. I mean, at our hospital this past weekend, I had to turn away people right and left from other hospitals because we have the beds but we don’t have the nurses to staff them, plus the effects of Puerto Rico – we have medicines that we now don’t have because of those,” he said.

Cohen said that includes some supplies such as IV bags. While that may cause a strain, she said, no one has gone without care. DHHS is monitoring the situation, Cohen said.

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