"If you put the 2004-05 season on a graph with the past 10 seasons, it looks very similar to most of the past years," said Dr. Jeffrey Engel. "The season starts to increase in January and it peaks in mid to late February."
Last year the heaviest part of the flu season hit earlier than normal, but this year, little flu activity was noted before the middle of January. Substantially more cases were noted across the state last year.
Flu activity in the state is monitored by a sentinel system, according to state health officials. The system consists of 58 health care providers across the state who report the number of patients experiencing flu-like illnesses. The sentinel sites in North Carolina include 17 local health departments, 12 university student health centers, 26 private practices, and three hospitals in 38 counties.
Symptoms of flu-like illnesses include a fever of at least 100 degrees and cough or sore throat.
According to data from the sentinel sites, only about three percent of the people visiting the sentinel sites this year reported flu-like symptoms, compared to eight percent at the peak of the season last year, officials said.
Officials cautioned that flu can be unpredictable but that it appears the worst of this year's season is over.
Engel said that this year's flu season apparently peaked on February 19, when 3.13 percent of the patients at the sentinel sites reported flu-like illnesses.
Engel thanked the sentinel providers for participating in this year's surveillance program.
"These providers volunteer to help with our efforts," he said. "Because of their work, we are aware of what the flu situation is across North Carolina. We are fortunate to have so many providers willing to participate in surveillance.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that North Carolina have just 34 sentinel sites, but we have gone well beyond that recommendation, which ensures that we have good data," Engel added.
According to Bladen County Interim Health Director Debbie Lynch, flu activity in Bladen also appears to be lower than last year's. However, she pointed out that her department sees little of these types of illnesses because they do not operate a clinic for illnesses.
Physician Assistant Heather Pait of Bladen Medical Associates, said in a Monday interview that a fairly heavy patient load of flu cases are being seen at the clinic.
"We're still seeing a significant number of cases," said Pait. "Another provider, Amy Ransom, and I are seeing about six cases between us daily, and that does not include any that the other providers in the clinic are seeing. We haven't seen the numbers (of cases) taper down yet."