Health Care

Flu deaths down in NC last week, but season toll unusually high

Susan Catchings, left, a Family Nurse Practitioner, checks patient McKenzie Haibt, 14, from Pittsboro, for the flu in her office in Cary on Dec. 19, 2014. She was there with her mother, Angela Haibt, who is getting over a bout with the flu. Recently, there has been an outbreak of the flu in the Triangle. They are at the Shah and Catchings Family Practice in Cary. There has been a shortage of Tamiflu, a drug used to treat the disease.
Susan Catchings, left, a Family Nurse Practitioner, checks patient McKenzie Haibt, 14, from Pittsboro, for the flu in her office in Cary on Dec. 19, 2014. She was there with her mother, Angela Haibt, who is getting over a bout with the flu. Recently, there has been an outbreak of the flu in the Triangle. They are at the Shah and Catchings Family Practice in Cary. There has been a shortage of Tamiflu, a drug used to treat the disease. cseward@newsobserver.com

Nine more North Carolinians died from complications of the flu last week, according to state health officials.

That’s down from 15 the previous week and is the lowest weekly count since mid-December.

It has been an unusually deadly flu season. The newest deaths lifted the total number for the season to 152, the highest toll since the state began tracking it in 2009.

The most prevalent strain of the virus this season is particularly hard on the elderly, and the vast majority of those killed have been older adults. All but 11 of those who have died this season were over the age of 49, and most of those were 65 or older.

The season is bad at least in part because the main strain of the virus evolved, making the vaccine substantially less effective than expected.

The season started – and apparently peaked – earlier than is usual. According to measures such as the number of patients appearing in emergency rooms and clinics with illnesses likely to be flu, the season appears to have hit its high point at the end of December.

Flu activity remained relatively high last week, and there could be a second peak later in the season, public health experts say.

The virus is a top killer among infectious diseases. In a typical season, about 24,000 Americans die from complications of the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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