North Carolina Sees Dramatic Drop in Spread of Flu, Other Respiratory Illnesses Thanks to Preventative Practices

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North Carolinians have protected themselves and their loved ones from the flu along with COVID-19 by taking preventative measures such as wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from people who do not live with them, and frequently washing their hands or using hand sanitizer.

These preventative measures – known collectively as the 3Ws – have helped dramatically reduce the spread of the flu and other respiratory illnesses across the state, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Compared to past years, North Carolina has seen very low levels of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) this year, according to data reported to the department by seven of the state’s largest healthcare systems. Similar trends are being seen nationally and globally.

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Only four deaths from flu have been reported to NCDHHS so far this season, compared to 186 deaths last season and more than 200 deaths during the 2018-19 season. The data show these low levels of flu and RSV are occurring despite similar or higher levels of testing for both illnesses.

Additionally, NC Medicaid has seen a 98.2% reduction in expense claims for Tamiflu, a drug used to treat the flu.

COVID-19 spreads more easily than the flu and other seasonal respiratory viruses, but mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing have been shown to help slow the spread of both illnesses.

“Altogether, this data tells us the preventative measures we’re taking are working,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “Not only are the 3Ws having a big impact on the spread of flu and other respiratory viruses, this data shows us that the spread of COVID-19 would likely be much higher if we weren’t taking these measures.”

Influenza can place a major strain on the healthcare system, causing between 9 million and 45 million illnesses and 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year. Reductions in flu and other respiratory viruses have opened up more capacity for hospitals to handle cases of COVID-19.

“Reducing hospitalizations because of flu and other respiratory illness has been critically important to helping NC’s hospitals manage surges in COVID-19 cases,” Cohen said. “We must keep practicing preventative measures such as wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart and washing our hands so we can continue to help save lives.”