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Health Team

Two NC flu deaths surprise experts

Posted January 19, 2011 3:22 p.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2011 7:53 p.m. EST

— The flu is widespread in North Carolina and has caused two deaths this season, experts say.

A year after the H1N1 scare, a mix of H1N1 and types A and B of the flu is circulating in North Carolina. About half of the cases are from the Type B strain.

Type B flu has also been connected to two deaths, a fact that surprised experts.

"Type A and B can cause serious disease. It's said in most years that B is milder, but this year, it doesn't appear to be so," said Dr. David Weber, an infectious disease expert with the University of North Carolina School of Public Health.

The current flu vaccine includes protection from Type B influenza, as well as H1N1 and Type A.

"Do the things to protect yourself from the flu," Weber said. The flu season hasn't "peaked yet. There's still time to get your vaccine, so first, get the vaccine."

In the fatal flu cases in North Carolina, one of the patients had not received the vaccine and the other patient did receive it, but only a few days before the first symptoms, which was too late. The immunization has to be in the body for about 2 weeks before it's fully effective.

The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone over 6 months old and those who are most at risk for complications, including pregnant women, very young children, the elderly and those with chronic or underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

Most people can get through the flu in less than a week by staying home and using over-the-counter pain and fever medications.

People in the at-risk groups, though, should call their doctor within 48 hours after the first symptoms appear. Doctors might prescribe medicine that will shorten the course of the disease and decrease the risk of hospitalization or even death.

Flu symptoms include an upper respiratory infection, cough or cold combined with a fever, headache and muscle aches.