Health Care

Flu season is on the decline in North Carolina

This winter’s unusually harsh flu season has peaked and is on the decline, state health officials said Friday.

The virus has been blamed for 90 deaths across North Carolina since October, and that toll will likely grow, though not as quickly as it has been in recent weeks, said state epidemiologist Megan Davies during a news conference Friday.

The flu season was likely worse this year because the vaccine was effective in reducing the risk of infection by only about 23 percent. The dominant strain of the virus that has appeared so far was targeted by this year’s vaccine formulation, but the strain evolved slightly, making the drug less useful.

Even with flu activity slowing and a vaccine that isn’t as effective as hoped, Davies said it was still wise to get vaccinated. The flu season will continue for weeks and could hit a second peak with another strain that the vaccine is more effective in preventing. Also, even if the vaccine doesn’t stop an infection, it may reduce the impact of the virus, she said.

The flu season both started and began to decline early, something it has done now for three consecutive years, said Zack Moore, a medical epidemiologist with the state Division of Public Health. It’s not clear why that’s the case, and whether it’s “the new normal,” Moore said.