Flu decreasing, but still hanging around the Wilmington area

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Cases of the flu are decreasing, but the season still has a few months to go.
Cases of the flu are decreasing, but the season still has a few months to go.

Even with spring on the horizon, flu is still widespread in North Carolina and taking a toll on the elderly.

First, the good news. Flu cases have dropped, according to the North Carolina Weekly Influenza Surveillance Summary released Thursday, March 16, by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Statewide, there were 501 cases of influenza-like illnesses during the week that ended March 11, according to the most recent data available. That’s down from a high of 1,041 cases during the week that ended Feb. 18, and also a dip from 880 cases for the week that ended March 4.

But the flu is still prevalent in six of the seven regions tracked by the state, including the Wilmington area, according to Anita Valiani, influenza epidemiologist with the North Carolina Division of Public Health’s Communicable Disease Branch.

“We are continuing to be at widespread activity,” Valiani said. “We are seeing a later-than-normal peak.”

In previous years, flu has peaked around late December and early January, according to Valiani. Last year, the peak came later, in February and March.

It’s not clear why the peaks occur when they do from season to season, Valiani said, noting that the flu is fickle.

“We can only wait and see,” she added.

Flu still a threat for the elderly

For the elderly, though, the implications are clear.

Hospital admissions for acute respiratory illnesses increased during the week ending March 11, according to the weekly surveillance report. Patients ages 65 and older accounted for the highest number of those admissions, followed by patients between the ages of 25 and 64.

Valiani urged people to exercise restraint about visiting elderly people in assisted living or other facilities. The elderly are a high-risk population for the flu, including the A/H3 strain that is circulating this year, she said.

“The key take-home message this time of year is stay home,” Valiani said.

If you’re sick, try not to visit an elderly relative or patient in a nursing or other facility, she added. Or, if you must go, practice good hand and health hygiene and consider wearing a mask.

Also, try not to bring elderly relatives out into the community, where they might come into contact with the flu, she said. If they are exposed, they could bring the illness back to a residential facility, where it might spread among other elderly residents.

It’s a hard message to get across, Valiani said, but it’s in the best interest of the visitor and the elderly person — at least until the risks subside, likely later this year.

“Flu season typically goes until the end of May,” she said. “We could have another peak. Who knows?”