NC flu deaths triple in one week
Posted January 8, 2015
Updated January 13, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Thirty people in North Carolina died of flu last week, confirming state health officials' fears of a spike in flu-related deaths as the annual flu season nears its peak.
According to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Health and Human Services, 54 people have died of flu across North Carolina since the season began in October. That includes seven earlier deaths that were only recently confirmed as being caused by the virus.
The bulk of the deaths, 42, have been among people age 65 or older. Five of those who died were between the ages of 50 and 64, another five were ages 25 to 49 and two were children.
"In terms of intensity, the flu activity has been more intense as measured by visits to emergency departments," Dr. Megan Davies, state epidemiologist, said during a Tuesday news conference.
More than 10 percent of the people who visited physicians or emergency departments statewide last week were suffering from flu-like illnesses, according to DHHS.
Of the 52 samples from patients that were submitted to state labs for testing last week, 38 tested positive for flu, including 16 from Robeson County and seven from New Hanover County.
One reason for the spike in deaths, officials said, is that a specific strain of flu – H3N2, a type of Influenza A – is not well-matched to the flu vaccine for this season. Despite that, officials still recommend the flu vaccine for those who have not received it.
"Flu vaccine protects against three of four strains of the flu, depending on which one you received," Davies said. "We still think it's very important to get the flu vaccine. It can still protect many people and prevent hospitalizations and deaths."
The flu is now widespread in all but seven states, and hospitalization rates match the dismal season two years ago. While health officials fear this will be an unusually bad year, it's too soon to tell.
Many hospitals and community clinics across the state have restrictions in place to keep people under 18 and those with flu symptoms – high fever, body aches and chills, cough or sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose – from visiting patient areas. Beginning Friday, WakeMed will restrict patient visitations. No visitors under the age of 12 or visitors who are experiencing fever, diarrhea, cold or flu-like symptoms will be permitted in patient-care areas.