Twenty-six more people died from complications of the flu in North Carolina last week, state health officials announced Thursday.
That brings the death toll for this year’s flu season to 90. Last year, 107 people died of flu through the entire season and 59 died the year before that.
There are further signs that this flu season may have peaked. The number of cases treated at outpatient centers in the state declined significantly last week, according to the state Division of Public Health.
Less than 5 percent of patients seen by a surveillance network of outpatient health care providers called ILINet had symptoms consistent with flu last week, down from more than 9 percent the week before.
The strain of the virus in the vast majority of cases tested by the state lab so far is H3N2, which is typically more dangerous for older adults.
The vast majority of those who have died – 72 of them – were 65 or older. Just two children have succumbed to complications of the virus, and the rest were between the ages of 25 and 64.
The H3N2 strain was expected, and this year’s flu vaccine was formulated to protect against it. But the strain evolved slightly, making the vaccine less effective than hoped, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that likely contributed to the high amount of flu-related activity.
The CDC said Thursday that researchers estimate that getting a flu vaccine this season reduced a person’s risk of having to go to the doctor because of flu by 23 percent among people of all ages. That’s on the low end of vaccine effectiveness found in CDC studies over the last decade, which have found a range of 10 to 60 percent effectiveness.
The reduced protection from the vaccine underscores the need to take steps to prevent the spread of flu and to treat suspected cases as quickly as possible, the CDC said.