Flu-related illnesses have claimed the lives of another 12 North Carolinians, including the first individual in the four-and-under age group, the N.C. Division of Public Health reported Thursday.
Nine deaths were reported for the week that ended Feb. 8, along with three deaths from previous weeks. There have been 75 deaths reported for the 2019-20 flu season.
Of the additional deaths, six were for individuals ages 65 and older, along with three ages 50 to 64, two ages 25 to 49 and one in the 0-to-4 age group.
The number of reported cases of flu increased by 23% during the week that ended Feb. 8 compared with the previous week. For the 2019-20 flu season, DHHS extended the reporting period to be completed with the week that ends May 16.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services cautions the weekly report count does not represent all flu-associated deaths in the state because many go undiagnosed or unreported.
The division does not release a victim’s hometown, county, age or gender for privacy reasons.
Of the 75 who have died in this season to date, 43 were 65 or older, 18 were ages 50 to 64, 12 were ages 25 to 49, one ages 5 to 17 and one ages 0 to 4.
North Carolina has not been listed among the 19 states, including Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, considered as reporting high levels of flu.
All of the Triad’s main hospital systems began prohibiting visitors 12 and younger on Jan. 8 “due to a steady increase in flu in our community and in our hospitals because of the risk of flu.” Those hospitals include Moses Cone, Forsyth and Wake Forest Baptist medical centers.
Restrictions do not apply to children who seek emergency care or are patients. Exceptions may also be made in special circumstances, such as visiting a dying family member.
There was a seasonal peak of 7,070 flu-like cases reported in N.C. last week, up from 5,754 during the week that ended Feb. 1 and 4,720 during the week that ended Jan. 25.
“There are some indications we’re getting close to peak in the Triad region,” Dr. Christopher Ohl, infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist, said last week.
“However, infections are still occurring, and we’re not totally out of the woods just yet.”
Walgreens, which has been issuing a weekly flu index during the 2019-20 flu season, said the Raleigh-Cary metro area is ranked fifth in the nation for current flu activity, while North Carolina is ninth among the 50 states.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman has said one reason why the flu season has been more virulent this time is because it’s the first time since 1992-1993 that influenza B has been identified more often than influenza A nationally.
In North Carolina, there have been 3,256 confirmed cases of influenza B, compared with 2,738 influenza A, 917 of 2009 A(H1N1) and 29 of A(H3).
At this time of the flu seasons, there were 58 deaths in 2018-19, 213 in 2017-18, 36 in 2016-17, three in 2015-16, 162 in 2014-15 and 68 in 2013-14.
Altogether, there were 208 flu-related deaths in the 2018-19 season for N.C., as well as 391 in 2017-18, 218 in 2016-17, 60 in 2015-16, 219 in 2014-15 and 107 in 2013-14.
Vaccine is recommended for those age 6 months and older.
Besides the elderly, other vulnerable groups are children younger than 5, pregnant women, people with pre-existing medical conditions, and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care centers.