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By Rose Hoban

It appears that this season’s flu is starting to wane from the peak number of cases reported to officials at the state Department of Health and Human Services several weeks ago.

The red line indicates how many cases of flu are being detected by North Carolina’s infectious disease surveillance network through the 2017-18 season. Darker lines represent prior years. Graph courtesy: NC DHHS

But DHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen told lawmakers at the General Assembly on Wednesday that rates of flu activity remain higher than even at the peak of illness last year.

“We not only peaked early, we peaked higher,” said Cohen who reported the most common flu has been an H3N2 strain that she termed “particularly virulent and has a high degree of illness.”

More than 200 people in North Carolina are confirmed to have died as a result of flu this year, most of them over the age of 65, with 27 reported in the past week alone. Hospitalizations across the state related to the disease remain at seasonal highs.

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Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this year’s flu shot was about 36 percent effective overall at preventing the flu, but the vaccine was more effective against less virulent strains of the disease than against the H3N2, which has been the nastiest of the strains in circulation.

A flu vaccine always contains components to ward off at least three flu viruses, and which viruses are contained in the shot are decided months before the flu season begins. This means that sometimes one strain becomes more widespread than others,leading to more sickness than expected, even in people who got a shot.

Use the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder to find your shot!

However, the CDC admitted in their study that this effectiveness rate “reflect(s) ongoing challenges with the A(H3N2) vaccine component since the 2011–12 season.”

Cohen said that because of the early peak of the season and the fact that there’s still widespread flu activity it’s not too late to get vaccinated.”

”You can continue to expect high levels of flu in coming weeks.”

She also said if people do think they have the flu, they should call their physician for antiviral medications, which she called an “important second line of defense.” Cohen also suggested having prophylactic antivirals in the home if there are very young infants or people older than 65 or who are immunocompromised living there.

Influenza hospitalizations for the 2017-18 season. Chart courtesy: NC DHHS
Prevent flu from spreading!
  • get your shot
  • wash hands frequently and/ or use hand sanitizer
  • cover coughs and sneezes
  • stay home if you’re sick with fever, body aches, cough

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Rose Hoban

Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...