As we near the peak of the influenza season, let us review a few things:
— Typically the peak in North Carolina is the first and second week of February, although cases will continue into March and April. This means getting immunized right now could result in optimum protection for the worst period.
— Ninety-one percent of the flu viruses that have been analyzed by CDC nationwide match the viruses in the 2012-13 vaccine.
— The vaccine is so effective this year, it has reduced the risk of people having to go to the doctor by 60 percent.
— In North Carolina, 9.13 percent of the people presenting to sentinel sites exhibited influenza-like symptoms at the end of December; this is nearly four times the regional expected level of 2.3 percent.
— Ninety-six percent of the positive cases in North Carolina were A/H3, which is one of the viruses covered in the vaccine.
— The deaths that have occurred in North Carolina were in three age groups: two in ages 25-49, two in ages 50-64 and 13 in ages 65 and over. Nearly half of the deaths occurred during the week of Dec. 15.
— The take-home message is this may be the worst season in some time and there are plenty of places to get vaccinated, so do it. Of course, every respiratory problem is not associated with flu; with our climate changes taking effect, molds and other allergies are more readily apparent.
On a different note, I saw an article on the percentage of emergency department visits by people aged 18 and younger by primary expected source of payment in the United States. This was a comparison from 2001 to 2010.
Medicaid and CHIP — Children’s Health Insurance Program, or Health Choice as it is called in NC — went from 34 to 50 percent of those presenting. Children covered by private insurance decreased from 45 to 34 percent, which could reflect the number of people who lost insurance over that time frame and could also be a part of the Medicaid increase.
The percentage of no insurance payment decreased from 11 to 8 percent. While many people think of emergency departments seeing mostly no-pay type individuals, the facts reveal just the opposite. Many of the children with health coverage should have been seen in pediatric and family clinics in a preventive manner; instead parents wait until the emergency department is the only option available.
The local Community Care Network makes a good effort to identify the frequent Medicaid users and stresses the need for seeking alternative care. Any effort to curb Medicaid spending translates into funds available for other uses by the state (education?). With the Affordable Care Act coverage coming into play next year, educating the covered individuals is key to ensuring that the system stays afloat.