Raleigh, N.C. — Flu activity across the state is at the highest level recorded in the past decade, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said Friday.
The state has recorded 12 flu deaths since early October. Nine of the deaths were among patients age 65 and older.
Department data also shows that flu-like symptoms accounted for nearly 11 percent of all visits to emergency rooms and 7 percent of visits to outpatient providers across the state last week.
Several hospitals are limiting visitors to try to stop the the spread of the virus. In Fayetteville, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center last week began restricting visits by children younger that 12.
Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton and FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst announced similar restrictions. At Southeaster, no one under 18 is allowed beyond the first floor.
Officials encouraged residents to take time out of holiday festivities to get a flu shot to help combat outbreaks that have been reported in schools, long-term care facilities and other places.
“It is very unusual for us to see this many deaths so early in the flu season,” said Dr. Laura Gerald, state health director. “This year’s vaccine is well-matched to the strains of flu we are seeing in North Carolina, so we strongly recommend that anyone over 6 months old be vaccinated.”
Gerald reminded residents to stay home when they are sick, wash hands regularly with soap and water, and cover cough and sneezes to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Free flu shots are available from most local health departments and many providers. Visit flu.nc.gov for more information.