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State changing the way it reports flu hospitalizations and deaths

Release Date: October 7, 2009
Contact: Carol Schriber, 919-733-9190

RALEIGH – North Carolina is changing the way it reports flu deaths and hospitalizations, in response to a new nationwide directive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When the new flu virus first surfaced in the state in April 2009, North Carolina began reporting flu cases and deaths, and later hospitalizations, due to laboratory confirmed H1N1 influenza A virus. Starting this week, the state is reporting hospitalizations and deaths from all influenza-like illnesses, including both H1N1 and seasonal influenza. The state will no longer be reporting separately the number of hospitalizations and deaths among patients with lab-confirmed pandemic H1N1. However, the 2009 H1N1 strain of flu accounts for more than 99 percent of all flu currently circulating in the state and the country.

“The laboratory confirmed numbers underestimate the real number of cases,” said State Epidemiologist Megan Davies. “While this reporting change will result in what seem to be larger numbers, it will give us a truer picture of the impact of flu in the state over the coming weeks and months.”

The North Carolina Division of Public Health continues to track emergency department visits and visits to designated healthcare providers for flu-like symptoms.  Flu activity is also monitored by running laboratory tests on a sample of patients from across the state each week to determine which types of flu are circulating.

“This is basically the same type of flu surveillance that North Carolina and the United States have used for years to track influenza,” Davies said. “Now it has been expanded to include flu-related hospitalizations and all influenza deaths.” Reporting of all flu-related deaths is now required by a temporary order from the State Health Director. In previous years, only pediatric flu deaths were reported.

The reporting on influenza-associated deaths is based on reports from doctors and local health departments of people who died from an illness identified as influenza (either seasonal or pandemic) through medical testing.

The hospitalization numbers are based on electronic monitoring of the number of patients with influenza-like-illness (ILI) who are admitted to hospitals through emergency departments. ILI is not the same as laboratory confirmed influenza. Patients who are identified as having ILI might have other diseases, so this number may overestimate the actual number of influenza hospitalizations, but is useful for monitoring trends.

For more information on influenza in North Carolina, see www.flu.nc.gov.