Health & Fitness

Flu kills 17 more people in North Carolina

Doctors say it’s still not too late to get vaccinated against the flu.
Doctors say it’s still not too late to get vaccinated against the flu. AP

Seventeen more people have died from the flu in North Carolina last week as the statewide total has reached 165 since Oct. 1.

The update was issued by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday afternoon. It is significantly lower than the 39 reported deaths for the previous week.

The most recent deaths for the week ending Feb. 10 include two elderly people in Johnston County and one adult in Orange County who was vaccinated but had chronic health conditions. None have died from flu-related causes in Wake County or Durham County in the past two weeks. Flu season runs from Oct. 1 through May.

This flu season is one of the worst in years and is approaching the 218 total flu deaths reported last year in North Carolina. By comparison, the state reported 59 flu-related deaths in the 2015-16 flu season.

This year the flu vaccine is protecting only one-third of people who got the shot. In a flu season when public health experts more accurately predict which flu strains will be active, flu vaccine protects at least half the people who are inoculated.

Public health experts continue to urge the public to get vaccinated even though the flu season is more than half over. They said vaccinations reduce the risk of the flu spreading even if they aren’t 100 percent effective.

Of the 165 flu-related deaths to date, 73 were known to have been vaccinated and 81 were unvaccinated or had no documentation of flu vaccine, according to state health officials.

The flu epidemic is filling hospitals with sniffling, aching people. As flu cases multiply, hospital visits for flu-like symptoms have surged to nearly 11 percent of all hospital visits statewide; the percentage peaked at just under 8 percent in the last flu season.

Most of the victims in North Carolina so far have been the elderly. Those who are most vulnerable to flu complications are the very old and the very young, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Flu-related deaths are typically associated with complications caused by the virus. Flu complications can include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, bacterial infections and immune system over-reactions.

People who have other conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, are also susceptible to complications that result when the body is fighting against influenza.

The CDC urges flu vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older with rare exceptions. The agency recommends injections over nasal sprays, which the CDC has not recommended for the past two years because of lower effectiveness.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski