Atrium Health President and CEO, Gene Woods, getting his flu shot in October of 2017.

95 flu deaths in N.C. as of Jan. 27:  20 new deaths since Jan. 20

With flu deaths on the rise and peak season on the horizon, Atrium Health (formerly Carolinas HealthCare System) is urging continued vigilance against the deadly virus and reminding patients of innovative treatment options, such as Virtual Visit.

Flu cases, especially the more severe H3N2 strain, have been spiking since late December in North Carolina. Atrium Health is seeing more patients with flu-like illnesses earlier than usual, around 9 percent of patients — up from about 5 percent the same time last year — and that number is climbing.

Atrium Health hospitals are working together to ease high volumes so patients get seen as quickly as possible, said Dr. Catherine Passaretti, Medical Director for Infection Prevention. But if you’re feeling sick and are not sure whether it’s a cold or the flu, a Virtual Visit or urgent care visit may be the quickest treatment options, she said.

For severe symptoms, such as problems breathing, dehydration and inability to keep down fluids or food, go to the emergency room, said Dr. Passaretti.

Seek flu relief without leaving home

Virtual Visit is cost-effective for patients and “having care delivered while you’re on your couch in your pajamas is a great convenience,” said Dr. Scott Rissmiller, Deputy Chief Physician Executive.

Virtual Visit speeds up the time to treatment, which is important with regard to lessening the severity and duration of the flu, he said. “It expedites treatment so you get a diagnosis and a prescription sent to the pharmacy in under an hour from the start of the visit.”

From a public safety standpoint, Virtual Visits protect patients in waiting rooms as well as clinic staff and doctors and help prevent the spread of the virus.

Virtual Visit has been an extension of Atrium Health’s primary care models for several years and provides the same quality assurance and consistency of care as in-office care, said Dr. Rissmiller. The patient experience rating for Virtual Visit care is 4.9 out of 5, and more than 40 percent of patients are repeat users.

In the past couple of weeks, Virtual Visits have soared from 15 visits a day to 93 visits a day, said Dr. Rissmiller.

When should you use Virtual Visit? For minor injuries and illnesses, such as cold or flu-like symptoms, urinary tract infections, seasonal allergies, pink eye, or lower back pain.

Who can use Virtual Visit? Anyone in North Carolina, whether you have insurance or not. Virtual Visit is based on the patient’s physical location. For example, if you live in South Carolina, but work in North Carolina, you can use Virtual Visit from your workplace through the MyCarolinas mobile app. Get it at Apple or Google Play.

Cost? Real-time access to a medical professional is $49 per visit. If your insurance covers Virtual Visit, you may be reimbursed. If your plan has a high deductible, the flat $49 fee may be more cost-effective than using your coverage.

Newest urgent care location in uptown Charlotte.

If you need a physical exam or in-person testing, consider urgent care. Find the location nearest you and check current wait times.

For severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, dehydration, nausea and vomiting, go to the emergency room. Find the location nearest you and check current wait times.

Stay healthy with these precautions

Is it a cold or the flu? Learn more about the cold and flu at

Get vaccinated: The flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective but is your best chance to avoid getting influenza, and if you do get the flu, it can lessen the severity of illness. It is possible to get ill after being vaccinated, but the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. In most cases, if you get sick right after getting the vaccine, it is due to a different virus or because the vaccine hasn’t had time to kick in yet. There is still time to get vaccinated. HealthMap Vaccine Finder can help you find a vaccine provider near you.

Practice “respiratory etiquette.” Dr. Passaretti says the basic hygiene rules your mom or grandma taught you “are truly really important right now.”

  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
  • Disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces such as doorknobs, desks, keyboards and phones.
  • If you have flu-like symptoms, stay home.
  • 14 tips proven to help prevent the flu.

If you must travel, Dr. Passaretti advises: Hydration, hydration, hydration. If you can, travel with hand sanitizer and consider antibacterial wipes as well for everything from the seat table on airplanes to wiping down remotes and doors while at hotels.

Get more information on Virtual Visit. 

Read more about flu symptoms and how to stay healthy.