NC reports three adult deaths linked to seasonal flu

sgilman@newsobserver.comDecember 3, 2013 

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— Though flu season is not yet in full swing, three adults in North Carolina have died after testing positive for Influenza A, the state Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday.

The patients, from Eastern North Carolina, the Triad and the Charlotte area, were middle aged and had existing medical conditions that put them at risk for complications, according to state officials.

Flu season typically peaks in January and February, said Zach Moore, an epidemiologist with the N.C. Division of Public Health.

“Every season’s different, but I’d say we’re on track for where we usually are,” he said. “It’s starting to pick up, as you would expect.”

Last year, 59 people – all adults – died from the flu, Moore said, but that number may actually be higher since most cases of flu go unreported. Many people who die are not tested for the flu, he said, and rapid cotton swab tests miss about 50 percent of cases.

“It’s kind of just the tip of the iceberg that we hear about,” he said. “The number of deaths reported do not reflect the actual numbers.”

Last year was the first year that no children died from the flu since 2004 when the state started tracking deaths in children, Moore said. The flu strain last year was Influenza A H3N1, which tends to affect older people. Moore said a lot of nursing homes and assisted-care facilities experienced outbreaks.

This year, he said, the strain that medical staff have been detecting is called Influenza A H1N1, and it tends to affect younger people.

“[It] kind of fits the deaths reported,” he said. “None of them were over 65; they were all middle aged.”

Children can die from the flu without having any other medical problems, but Moore said adults usually display additional problems that make them higher risk.

Individuals most at-risk are children under age 2, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or immune system problems.

Acting State Health Director Robin Gary Cummings expressed his sympathy for the families of those who died from the flu, and encouraged others to get tested for it.

“We hope that these tragic cases will alert other people to the risks associated with contracting the flu,” Cummings said.

Gilman: 919-829-8955

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