Flu death toll in NC rises to 13; UNC and Rex limit visitors

From staff reportsJanuary 2, 2014 

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Public health officials stress the importance of vaccinations to protect the health of people with compromised immune systems. Duke pulmonology patient Lee Welch of Raleigh, NC, gets a flu shot from Duke RN Anita Gregory in the Duke Pulmonology clinic at Duke Hospital South Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

Five more people died of flu in North Carolina in the week that ended Saturday, bringing the total to 13 during the current flu season, state public health officials say.

Meanwhile, UNC Health Care and Rex Healthcare, responding to the robust flu season, have joined Duke University Health Systems in temporarily limiting patients' visitors at their facilities. Visitors with cough, fever or other flu-like symptoms will not be allowed to visit patients, UNC and Rex said Thursday.

Starting next Monday, children younger than 12 may not visit patients in the N.C. Children’s and N.C. Cancer Hospitals in Chapel Hill, or in Rex Hospital’s Special Care Nursery in Raleigh.

Duke set similar limits on visitation on Monday. The limits will be reconsidered when the flu abates.

Seven of the 13 flu victims who have died in North Carolina have been ages 25 to 49, and five of them have been ages 50 to 64, according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Only one was 65 or older.

Most of the victims are people especially vulnerable to H1N1, the dominant strain of the virus so far this season, Zack Moore, a medical epidemiologist with the N.C. Department of Public Health, said earlier this week.

Factors that put people at high risk of serious illness or death from flu include heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illnesses such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, immune system problems, obesity and pregnancy.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year.

The flu season began in early October.

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