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Flu deaths rising as virus remains widespread


As flu deaths mounted throughout North Carolina during the week ending March 11, 2017, Pitt County Health Department officials recommended Friday that people receive a flu vaccine to prevent the spread of the potentially deadly virus. (File photo/The Daily Reflector)


Michael Abramowitz

Saturday, March 18, 2017

As the number of flu deaths across the state keeps climbing, Pitt County Health Department officials continue to stress the importance of vaccinations. 

More than 20 flu deaths were recorded in North Carolina for the week ending March 11, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, but none occurred in Pitt County, the county health director reported.

The number of influenza-associated deaths reported this season, which started Oct. 2, now is 110, DHHS officials reported. The number of total seasonal deaths reported in the week ending March 4 was 83. While flu activity has started to decrease in the state, the virus continues to be widespread statewide and in Pitt County. Updated death certificate reports have the total of flu-related deaths in Pitt County at six, including one child, health department Director Dr. John Morrow said Friday.

“Data isn’t as accurate at the county level because of the surveillance system used, but anecdotally, it certainly is still widespread,” Morrow said. “We are seeing other viruses in addition to flu, including RSV (affecting the lungs and respiratory tract), rhinovirus (cold virus) and enterovirus (the most commonly caused respiratory virus among children).” 

Morrow repeated his year-round message about the importance of vaccination, even as the official flu season draws closer to an end on the calendar.

“We’ll probably see that this year’s vaccine is about 48-percent effective, not as good as we’d like,” Morrow said. “But we know that people not vaccinated are more likely to spread the flu virus. We still don’t get enough people vaccinated to prevent its spread through the community. If we can do better at matching the vaccine to the virus and do better at getting more people vaccinated, we can hold down the numbers of sick people — and especially deaths.” 

“North Carolinians should continue to take precautions and not let down their guard,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore said in a separate statement that echoed Morrows cautionary remarks.

Antiviral medications are available to treat flu infections. People who think they might have the flu and are at high risk for severe complications should contact their doctor right away to see if antiviral medications might be needed, state health officials said. High risk groups include those with underlying conditions like asthma or heart disease, pregnant women, people older than 65 and children younger than 5.

Precautions that everyone should use to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses include:

• Wash hands frequently, with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly.

• If you are sick, stay home until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours.

For more information on flu and to find out where you can get a flu vaccination in your community, visit www.flu.nc.gov.

Weekly updates on flu surveillance data are also available at flu.nc.gov.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.