Heaven Gower, 10, of Wake Forest gets a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine shot, administered by Marti Arizona, RN, at UNC Children’s clinics in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

With colder weather comes an increased risk of flu and other respiratory illnesses.

In Mecklenburg County, cases of respiratory illnesses are lower than this time last year, but hospitalizations from the illnesses are on the rise.

Despite lower cases recently, medical professionals predict a coming spike, especially around the holidays, because of increased travel and group gatherings. 

Respiratory viruses, such as the flu, RSV, or COVID-19, tend to circulate the most during the fall and winter months, Dr. Katie Passaretti, chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health said. 

Symptoms of a respiratory virus can include fever, cough, congestion, respiratory symptoms, muscle aches and headaches, Dr. Passaretti said.

A look at the numbers 

Overall, cases of respiratory viruses have lowered since last year and in recent weeks, but hospital admissions have increased.

In Mecklenburg County, from Oct. 6 – 19, there were 522 emergency department visits for COVID-19-like illness, according to Mecklenburg County COVID-19 data.

Of those ED visits, 15% – about 78 cases – resulted in hospital admission.

A graph of the latest emergency department visits due to COVID-like illnesses in Mecklenburg County. Oct. 2023. (Graph courtesy of the Mecklenburg County Public Health)

 For the week ending on Oct. 21, 6% of emergency room visits statewide showed symptoms of a respiratory virus, according to the North Carolina Respiratory Virus Summary Dashboard.

There were 426 hospital admissions statewide for COVID-19 and 18 admissions for the flu reported for the same week.   

Lowering your risk

The best way to lessen the risk of infection this winter is through preventive care, such as strengthening one’s immune system and getting regular check-ups, Dr. Andrew Nance, a lifestyle medicine physician at Atrium Health, said. 

Eating healthy and exercising regularly are two ways to strengthen your immune system.

“The best way to improve your health [is] obviously physical activity, but it’s really eating the right foods,” Nance said. “[It’s] even more important to eat the right foods for your immune system so that if you do get sick, you got a better chance of fighting it.”

Nance recommends eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans. 

“If it came from the ground, a tree or a bush, you should totally eat it,” Nance said.  

Regular hand washing and practicing good respiratory etiquette, including covering your mouth when coughing, are two ways to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, Passaretti said. 

“If you sneeze or cough, don’t throw your tissues in a pile on a common table,” Passaretti said. “Cover it and throw it away promptly.” 

Furthermore, masking is always a good option to guard against airborne illness, especially for those high-risk, such as diabetics or the elderly population. 

“No one likes to talk about it, but masks are an excellent tool for people that are high risk,” Passaretti said. “It’s not going to be mandated in the community, but [I] encourage people [to wear masks].”

She also recommends anyone with symptoms stay home to prevent illnesses from spreading to others. 

Lastly, Passaretti recommends that anyone over six months get an updated COVID-19 and flu vaccine. 

“Get vaccinated to limit the likelihood of any kind of illness,” Passaretti said. “Use those tools that we have.” 

Updated COVID-19 booster shots are available at no cost to uninsured or underinsured Mecklenburg County residents via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Bridge Access Program.  

COVID-19 vaccines are available at:

  • Northwest Public Health Clinic, located at 2845 Beatties Ford Road.
  • Southeast Public Health Clinic, located at 249 Billingsley Road.

Residents with private insurance are encouraged to go to their primary care provider or local retail pharmacies, like CVS or Walgreens, to avoid any potential cost sharing.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *