Catawba County News
Flu Deaths Spike in County
Published: January 18, 2024
FLU DEATHS HIGH IN CATAWBA COUNTY THIS SEASON
HICKORY – Catawba County has seen a dramatic increase in flu deaths this season, especially over the past week, and Public Health is urging individuals to protect themselves, their loved ones and neighbors to help prevent additional deaths.
So far this flu season, Catawba County Public Health has received 16 reports of flu-related deaths in Catawba County residents. In a typical year, we see fewer than a handful.
“Any death from the flu is heartbreaking, but the numbers we are seeing so far this flu season are alarming,” said Catawba County Public Health Director Jennifer McCracken. “These 16 deaths represent more than triple our normal number. We have not seen this many seasonal flu fatalities in well over a decade and each one weighs heavily on our minds.”
In a typical flu season, deaths are most likely to occur in the older adult population, although anyone can be at risk. This year is no different, and nearly all of our county’s deaths have been in adults over age 65. This makes it especially important to protect our older adult population. Other groups that are particularly at risk of severe symptoms or death include people who have underlying medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or lung disease; people who have weakened immune systems; very young children; and women who are pregnant.
Flu activity in North Carolina has been high since early December and, as of last week, the state was still experiencing high flu activity. Normally, you see cases rise, then ER visits and hospitalizations, followed by a spike in the number of deaths.
“We don’t know yet if flu season has peaked, and we anticipate there being more deaths over the coming weeks based on previous weeks’ flu activity,” said McCracken. “That is why we should all do everything we can to prevent more spread.”
The flu is usually mild, but can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others who are more at risk for severe disease. That’s why staying up to date on vaccines and taking other preventive actions is important, even for healthy adults. Vaccines are one of the most important ways we can protect ourselves because we never know if we’re going to be the person who gets severely ill, even from a disease that is normally mild.
Flu vaccines are not 100% effective, but they do still prevent many cases of illness and can provide partial protection for others, shortening how long someone is sick or making symptoms less severe.
Preventing flu’s spread can be challenging because people who are infected can infect others, even before their own first symptoms appear.
“Although vaccines are the best tool we have in our respiratory virus protection tool belt, there are some other things people can do, like staying home and testing when we feel sick, handwashing, and covering coughs and sneezes. These are all ways we can prevent disease while protecting ourselves, our families and our community,” said McCracken.
Protection from viruses wanes over time for both people who have been sick in the past and for people who have been vaccinated. Flu viruses change some each year, so annual vaccines allow our immune systems to develop new antibodies for this year’s strains.
Flu and other respiratory virus vaccines are widely available in the community. Individuals who want to be vaccinated can check with their physician or local pharmacies to find out which vaccines they should get. For people who wish to obtain a flu shot at Public Health, appointments must be made by calling (828) 695-5881.
People experiencing mild symptoms should seek testing through their primary care physician, an urgent care or pharmacy clinic, if possible, reserving trips to the Emergency Department for more severe symptoms. Free Flu and COVID-19 tests are now available through a federal program that sends tests to the homes of eligible individuals. People with positive test results can be evaluated for free treatment that can be sent to a local pharmacy or to your home. More information: www.test2treat.org.