North Carolina flu deaths climb as season enters its most dangerous phase

Two more people died in the past week from the flu in North Carolina, bringing the total death toll from the virus to 22 for the flu season that started in October and is now entering its most active period.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported the total on Thursday as part of a weekly update. The 22 deaths reported represent two deaths in the week ending Jan. 12 and four deaths from an earlier period that were delayed in being reported.

The agency does not provide details, such as age or county of residence, to protect the privacy of the families affected.

The health agency said that 12 of those who have died, or 55 percent, were known to be vaccinated against the flu. The agency noted that flu vaccination is effective in preventing flu infections, but people who die from flu complications are either elderly or chronically ill and are at higher risk than the general population.

Flu season runs from October through May, but is most active during the coldest months.

So far, the current flu season has been milder than last year’s. In the previous flu season, 48 people died from flu-related causes in North Carolina by this time last year. The 2017-18 flu season resulted in 391 total deaths, the highest number since 2009, the year that the state began tracking flu deaths.

With flu-like symptoms and illnesses on the rise, all Triangle hospitals now restrict visitations to limit the spread of the disease. Children age 12 and younger are not permitted to visit patients, unless they get a special exemption, and can enter hospitals and clinics only if they are seeking treatment.

WakeMed Health & Hospitals has reported 53 positive tests for influenza in the week ending Jan. 12, the highest weekly so far, in the Raleigh organization’s seven emergency departments in Wake County, according to a spokeswoman.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges all people age 6 months or older to get flu vaccinations. The agency says the vaccine is most important for older people, children and people with health complications, such as diabetes, asthma, obesity and heart disease, because people with chronic health problems are more susceptible to flu-related complications.

John Murawski covers health care and environmental issues and has won numerous awards from the N.C. Press Association for his news coverage as well as his book reviews. He has previously worked as a journalist in South Florida, the Philadelphia area and Washington, D.C. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University and Indiana University, and has taken classes at Veracruz University (in Mexico) and the Jagiellonian University (in Poland). He can be reached at or 919-829-8932.