RALEIGH — Five more people have died from flu-related causes in North Carolina since Dec. 28, bringing the total to 21 since the season began in November, according to figures released by state public health officials Thursday.
Two of those who have died were age 65 or older, but the rest have been between the ages of 25 and 64. Most of those had medical conditions such as heart or lung disease that put them at risk.
Many people associate serious complications from flu with young children and elderly victims, which is true with many strains. But the dominant variety this year, H1N1, tends to hit younger and middle-aged adults harder.
Health experts say that adults who aren’t elderly may worry less about getting the vaccine or seeking treatment for flu when they get a bad or lingering case, putting themselves at risk.
Physicians can lessen the severity of a bout of flu with anti-viral drugs. Public health officials encourage those who get the flu to take advantage of that, particularly if they’re at risk for complications.
This season, that appears to include people who are overweight. According to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of the adults hospitalized nationwide for flu so far this season have been obese, an unusual amount.
Detailed information about patients’ weight isn’t normally recorded as part of the state’s flu data, but at least five of those who have died this flu season were obese, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday.
Typically, flu season lasts into February or even longer, so it’s not too late to get vaccinated. That’s the most effective way of preventing the illness, and it’s particularly crucial for women who are pregnant and those with other conditions that put them at risk, said State Health Director Robin Gary Cummings.
The vaccine formulation this year protects against three strains of flu, including H1N1.
About 9 percent of patients visiting emergency rooms last week had flu or a flulike illness, according to the state. Duke University Health Systems, UNC Hospitals and Rex Hospitals all have placed temporary restrictions on visitors because of the amount of flu in the general population.