How bad will flu season be in NC? Charlotte doctor explains

How bad will flu season be in NC?  Charlotte doctor explains

North Carolina health officials announced the first flu-related pediatric death of the season on Wednesday, November 2, 2022.

North Carolina health officials announced the first flu-related pediatric death of the season on Wednesday, November 2, 2022.

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A Charlotte doctor predicted a severe flu season this winter after the number of cases in North Carolina skyrocketed in October.

“This is going to be a big flu season based on what the cases in North Carolina look like,” said Dr. Usha Balmuri, a family medicine physician at Atrium Health Ballantyne.

There were 2,748 flu cases reported by hospitals in North Carolina during the week of Oct. 29, nearly three times as many as the previous week, according to to the data of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

For comparison, approximately 615 hospitalizations for acute respiratory illnesses were reported during October 2019, according to to the data of the NCDHHS. Data was not available for the 2020-21 flu season.

Flu season is expected to be more severe this year compared to previous years, Balmuri said, adding that a more contagious strain of the virus is already spreading through southern states.

“Usually flu season starts with influenza A followed by influenza B, but during this influenza season we are seeing early influenza B infections,” Balmuri said. “This change in pattern could be the reason for the rapid spread, as viral shedding of influenza B begins even before the infected person begins to experience symptoms.”

North Carolina saw her first pediatric flu death of the season on Nov. 2, NCDHHS reported. The agency has reported five confirmed flu-related adult deaths in the state this year.

Young children and people with chronic medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease, are especially susceptible to serious illness from the flu, Balmuri said.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Most flu patients, Balmuri said, experience symptoms that mimic those of COVID, including fever, malaise, fatigue, body aches and a mild cough, Balmuri said.

“Most of the time, it’s hard to tell the difference between those two infections,” Balmuri said. “It is very likely that you could contract a co-infection. That is why we strongly encourage our patients to get vaccinated against the flu and COVID.”

RELATED: Can You Get Your Flu and COVID Booster Shots Together? What the experts recommend

Atrium Health patients can make an appointment with their doctor to get a flu shot. Influenza vaccines are available to anyone older than six months, Balmuri said, adding that those who aren’t vaccinated should get vaccinated “as soon as possible.”

Many drugstore chains CVS, rocker harris, Walgreen’s Y walmart — also offer walk-in flu shot appointments and immunization clinics.

Besides getting vaccinated, Balmuri said the best way to prevent flu infections is to avoid close contact with sick people.

“If you have any symptoms of the flu, we recommend that you stay home, stay hydrated, contact your doctor as soon as possible and take symptomatic treatment so as not to spread the infection,” Balmuri said.

How to prevent the flu

Here are some other ways you can prevent flu infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Cover your cough and sneeze

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces

RELATED: Is Now the Time to Get a Flu Shot? What the experts say and where to get yours in Charlotte

Charlotte Observer reporter Mary Ramsey contributed to this story.

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Evan Moore is a service reporter for the Charlotte Observer. He grew up in Denver, North Carolina, where he previously worked as a reporter for the Denver Citizen, and graduated from UNC Charlotte.

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