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April 15, 2021

Flu infection rates in Rowan lower than national, regional average

The flu in Rowan County isn’t quite as severe as the national average, but local statistics still place the virus at a concerning level, according to doctors at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

Starting on Jan. 2, Rowan Medical Center enacted a policy preventing anyone younger than 18 from visiting hospitals in the Novant system. Several other hospital systems in North Carolina adopted similar policies following a Centers for Disease Control report that placed the flu at epidemic levels.

The latest CDC weekly flu update, which ended Dec. 27, stated 30.4 percent of flu tests nationwide came back positive. For the same time period, Region Four, which includes North Carolina, had a slightly lower positive test rate — 24.5 percent.

Statistics provided by Rowan Medical Center were for a larger time period, but showed a 21 percent positive test rate. From Dec. 1, 2014 to Jan. 5, Rowan Medical Center conducted 996 influenza or flu tests, according to Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Tom Trahey. Trahey said no one has died at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center during this year’s flu season.

The overall rate of infection for the flu may be higher than usual, but the virus’ spread isn’t entirely out of character for a typical season, said Novant Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Abayomi Agbebi.

“Even though we’re at epidemic levels, it’s not out of character for influenza season entirely,” Agbebi said.

The influenza virus is still spreading as it typically would, he said. As a result, the usual tactics for combating the virus are helpful, he said.

“The biggest thing we like to say and simplest thing is hand washing,” he said. “Hand washing and hand sanitizer are really the big things and the first things to do. Those simple things are still the first steps you want to take to prevent the virus.”

He said young children and adults over the age of 65 comprise an overwhelming majority of positive tests for influenza, which is normal for flu season.

A contributing factor to the wide spread nature of this year’s flu season could be a mismatch between the virus and the flu vaccination, but Agbebi still recommended flu shots as a preventative measure.

He said the flu shot is usually based on which virus is circulating in the Southern Hemisphere.

“It’s a scientific guess, but there’s a chance that you will not get a good match,” he said. “This year, we don’t have as good of a match as we have before, but we’re still within that range of effectiveness.”

Even with a slight mismatch in the flu shot and the actual virus, Agbebi said flu symptoms would be noticeably less severe with a shot.

“Even if it’s not a good match, if you do get the flu shot and get influenza, the symptoms will more likely be less than if you didn’t get a shot at all,” he said. “It’s an important thing to put out there. Even if you think it’s not as affective, when you do get sick it’s not as severe.”

The ban on children under 18 will be re-evaluated periodically, Trahey said. For the time being, he said children under 18 are not allowed to visit patients in the hospital, except for special circumstances.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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