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State flu deaths climb but season may have peaked


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Friday, February 23, 2018

The influenza death toll reached 200 last week in North Carolina with nearly three months remaining in the flu season, according to state public health reports.

There were 27 deaths from flu — none in Pitt County — reported in the state last week, according to data published by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ public health division.

Despite a slight decrease in reports of flu-like illnesses during week seven (Feb.11-17), activity has been widespread in North Carolina since late December, Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist, said in this week’s memo to clinicians.

“It looks like we’ve reached the peak of the season,” said Dr. John Morrow, Pitt County Health Department director. 

By comparison, the 2016-17 flu season peaked much later (March 11), but the total number of deaths for the season was 218. 

Of this season’s 200 total deaths since Oct. 1, more than 140 have occurred among people 65 or older, the data showed. There were 43 deaths among people age 50-64 and less than 10 deaths in all other age groups. Thus far this season, the weekly death toll peaked at 42 during the week of Jan. 28-Dec. 3, then dropped to 21 last week before spiking a bit this week at 27. 

So far, the predominant virus circulating in North Carolina and nationally has been influenza Type A (H3N2) virus. H3N2-predominant seasons have been  associated with more severe illness and mortality than H1N1- or B-predominant seasons, especially among older people and young children, Moore said.

Morrow noted that as reports of H3N2 appear to be decreasing statewide and nationwide, Type B flu strains are on the rise and might not have reached their peak.

“That means we’re less prone to higher mortality with Type B flu, although it’s still serious and can cause death,” he said.

If Type B flu becomes predominant the rest of the season, it could bring a reprieve to the older population because it tends to affect younger people more, Morrow said.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people — such as older people, young children and people with certain health conditions — are at high risk for serious flu complications. Expert say the best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. Seasonal influenza vaccine must be changed each year as the viruses naturally change over time.

Along with getting vaccinated, practice good hand hygiene to avoid catching the flu, experts said. To avoid giving the flu to others, stay home when you are sick, cough or sneeze into tissues and discard them properly, and wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an approved hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

“It’s still just as important now to wash your hands, cover your coughs, stay at home if you’re sick and get vaccinated as it was in October,” Morrow said. “It’s never too late for vaccination.”

During October through May, the N.C. Division of Public Health provides weekly updates on the spread of the influenza in North Carolina.

Flu symptoms include:

• A 100oF or higher fever or feeling feverish (not everyone with the flu has a fever)
• A cough and/or sore throat
• A runny or stuffy nose
• Headaches and/or body aches
• Chills
• Fatigue
• Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea (most common in children)

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