Local News

North Carolina Officially Sick, Reportedly Unprepared

Posted December 12, 2003 6:21 a.m. EST

— North Carolina is officially sick.

Thursday, the

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

moved the state to flu outbreak status.

Twenty-four states have reported outbreaks -- nearly double what it was last week. North Carolina was one of 10 states added to the list Thursday, meaning that at least half the state is battling confirmed cases or symptoms of the flu.

Federal health officials said they are rushing more than 100,000 doses of the flu vaccine across the country. They expect it to go fast.

WRAL checked in Thursday with health departments across the state. Most were out of vaccine and did not know when or if they will get more. Some had vaccine for at-risk children only and the

FluMist intranasal vaccine

for healthy people.

At least 11 children have died from the flu, including a 6-year-old from Montgomery County.

Thursday also marked the release of a new report that says North Carolina failed five of 10 indicators on how well prepared the state is for a public health emergency.

"The state's made some very important improvements, but it still has a long way to go to be adequately prepared," said Dr. Shelly Hearne, of

Trust for America's Health,

which sponsored the report.

The group found North Carolina did not have a flu plan and did not have enough labs to handle a health emergency.

"Obviously, there is still a lot to be done," Hearne said.

See Complete TFAH Preparedness Report

State health leaders said the report's findings are simply not true -- noting that law enforcement and health leaders in Raleigh talked about a quarantine in case of a health emergency.

Debbie Crane, with the

Department of Health and Human Services,

insisted that the state is prepared. She said the figures used in the report are more than a year old, and a lot has changed since then. There are new labs and equipment, and there is a flu plan.

Crane said it is the same plan used for any outbreak.

"We are one of the only places that actually was able to use their plan last year because we, unfortunately, had a case of SARS -- one of only eight in America," Crane said. "We contained it. No one else was infected, and the plan worked beautifully on the ground."

Gov. Mike Easley told WRAL that North Carolina has been recognized as one of the most prepared states. But he said no plan is perfect, as evidenced by the flu outbreak.

"Obviously, I'm frustrated we don't have as much vaccine," Easley said. "But they had five times as many children get vaccines this year, and there's no way to plan for that."

The emergency room at WakeMed found itself facing a preparedness challenge of its own Thursday. More than 170 patients were waiting to see a doctor.

Rex Hospital in Raleigh said it has been stretched at times with extra patients. Most other ER's also have seen an increase in patients but not as dramatic as WakeMed