Flu

chart of 2016-17 flu deaths
Courtesy of the NC Department of Health and Human Services

Flu season is over, and this year's was deadlier than usual. North Carolina health officials recorded more deaths to flu complications this season than in any year since they began tracking them in 2009.

At least seven people have died from flu complications in North Carolina, according to health officials.
Mike Mozart / flickr, Creative Commons

The state Department of Health and Human Services is reporting that the flu is now widespread with a high intensity across North Carolina.

At least seven people have died from flu complications in North Carolina, according to health officials.
Mike Mozart / flickr, Creative Commons

North Carolina is in the throes of a widespread, high-intensity flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

KOMUnews / flickr.com/photos/komunews/15409762240

North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services is urging people to get the flu shot now, a month before flu season is supposed to get started.

Last year's flu season was particularly nasty.

flu shot
samantha celera, via Flickr, Creative Commons

Thirty people died from the flu last week in North Carolina - about three times more than died the previous week. 

"And those numbers are going to continue to rise. Because we always see those numbers lag behind our flu activity numbers by a few weeks," said Dr. Zack Moore, an epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Moore says people should use basic prevention methods like staying home from work when sick and staying away from people who are ill. He points out that vaccination is still an option.

A picture of Tamiflu tablets.
Alcibiades / Wikipedia

Flu season has pharmacies scrambling to keep an antiviral drug called Tamiflu in stock.

Duke University Pharmacy Professor Richard Drew says unlike vaccines, Tamiflu works to treat and stop the spread of the disease.

“It's both a preventative and a treatment strategy,” Drew explains. “And, certainly, for those people who have a serious illness and require hospitalization, it's a very important drug.”

Sarah Lee manages the pharmacy supply chain for UNC Hospitals. She says this time each year, the demand for Tamiflu goes up exponentially.

A picture of an intravenous drip bag of saline.
Harmid / Wikipedia

Medical facilities are facing a national shortage of intravenous drugs, especially saline IV drips. Saline is used to treat dehydrated patients.

Manufacturers are stepping up production to meet need, but the shortage has presented problems to hospitals since December, when flu season began.

Zack Moore is an infectious disease epidemiologist with he North Carolina Division of Public Health. He said this is an especially bad time of year to have a limited saline supply for two reasons.

flu shot
samantha celera, via Flickr, Creative Commons

Workers at state DHHS healthcare facilities are being required to get flu shots.  Secretary Aldona Vos  is implementing the policy to fall in line with what some hospitals have done to protect patients' health. 

More than 10,000 employees and volunteers will have until December first to be vaccinated.  Luckey Welsh is interim director of the DHHS division of state-operated facilities that house mentally and developmentally disabled patients.

flu shot
samantha celera, via Flickr, Creative Commons

According to new research out of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, some people who suffer from the flu emit far greater amounts of the virus than others.  A small pilot study found 5 out of 61 patients who tested positive for flu released 32 times more of the virus in air samples taken during routine care. 

Not enough college students are getting vaccinated for the flu, according to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center study. The research asked 4,000 college students in North Carolina whether or not they had received a flu shot. Dr. Tim Peters was an author of the study and is a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases.

Tim Peters: "We found that about 20-percent of them had been vaccinated. And that number is quite a bit lower than we would like."

State health officials report the first two deaths from flu in North Carolina this season.

It is said to be one of the earliest reports of flu deaths the state has seen. Both victims were in the Triad. One was said to be a high-risk case because of age. The other was generally healthy. Zack More is a state epidemiologist. He says both cases show the flu cannot be taken lightly.

A vaccine plant in the Triangle has been recognized by the federal government as a facility ready to react to a flu outbreak. It's the first such distinction for a pharmaceutical company in the country. Doctors at the Novartis plant in Holly Springs say they can produce a large amount of vaccines at a quicker rate. Doctor Vas Narasimhan is the president of Novartis USA. He says the facility uses cell cultures to develop the vaccine rather than the tradition cultivation of the virus in chicken eggs.