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Health Team

As coronavirus rages, flu starts to appear in NC

Posted November 10, 2020 6:39 p.m. EST
Updated November 10, 2020 8:08 p.m. EST

— As North Carolina faces a surge in coronavirus infections, health officials are also confronting a second virus, as the seasonal flu season has begun.

UNC Rex Hospital in Raleigh reported seeing four people with the flu in the past week, and the state already recorded its first flu-related death of the season.

Dr. Linda Butler, chief medical officer at UNC Rex, said none of the four was hospitalized, but she’s closely monitoring hospital capacity with both viruses now in the air.

“Having COVID does not keep you from getting the flu and vice versa, so you could actually have both viruses at the same time," Butler said.

Physicians say the masks and social distancing that have become routine during the coronavirus pandemic will also help prevent the flu, but they said getting a flu shot is key at preventing serious illness.

“It’s not too late to get a flu vaccine," Jessica Dixon, an infection prevention specialist at WakeMed, said Tuesday.

The flu shot is widely available at doctors' offices and pharmacies, and it takes two weeks for the shot to provide maximum immunity. With two weeks until Thanksgiving and with coronavirus also spreading, Dixon said now is the time to vaccinated.

“If there’s any year you should get your first flu vaccine, this is probably a great year for it," she said. "You want to do whatever you can right now to keep yourself healthy, because the better off your overall health status is, the less likely you are to get infected with COVID and, certainly, the less likely you are to have complications from it."

WakeMed has yet to see a flu case at any of its seven emergency departments, Dixon said. But she said it's far too early to tell how bad the season will be. In fact, she said she's not completely confident the U.S. will see the same mild flu season as countries like Australia and New Zealand.

“I think they may have," she said when asked whether those countries did a better job as mass use of masks and social distancing.

Dixon also worries that people will let their guard down during the holidays, allowing both the flu and coronavirus to spread even faster.

“Every person that you add into your bubble or that you have contact with, it’s not just that person, it’s all of the people they’ve had contact with in the last two weeks that you are kind of exposing yourself to,” she said.

"If each of us is around two people that we trust that we were around previously, we add a couple people to our bubble," she added. "That’s a lot of people in the community that have exposure to one another or secondary exposure to one another that were not before."

Doctors say anyone 6 months old or older should get vaccinated, especially children, people 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions.

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