Two people died in North Carolina due to complications from flu-related infections in October, marking the first flu-related deaths of the 2017-18 season, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
State health officials said Thursday that one of the deaths occurred in the Piedmont region, while the other person died in the eastern part of the state.
Personal information on the victims will not be released to protect the privacy of their families, officials said.
"We offer our deepest sympathies to the families,” state epidemiologist Zack Moore said. “These personal losses are also a reminder for all of us that flu can be a serious illness. We strongly encourage people to protect themselves by getting a flu shot this season if they haven’t already.”
According to officials, flu infections are most common from late fall to early spring in North Carolina, with peak activity in January or February.
Health care providers said that they’re preparing for a flu season that could be two to three times worse than what people in North Carolina experienced last year.
Doctors with Novant Health told Channel 9 on Friday that they look at places like Australia and Asia to get an idea of what the state’s flu season may look like.
“Many of us suspect it's going to be kind of a bad flu season this year," medical director Dr. Charles Bregier said.
Bregier said the flu has not only been worse overseas this season, but it started early in the United States.
"We typically don't see many flu cases until really into October, but we started seeing it a month before, and we're seeing it every day in our urgent care centers," Bregier said.
Doctors said they have noticed a spike in people coming in for flu shots. This year's vaccine protects against two type A strains and two type B strains of the virus. Even though flu deaths are rare, doctors said it’s best to take precautions.
"I know there have been two people in North Carolina over age 65 that have died of the flu,” Bregier said. “To say they've died of the flu really likely means, they died of complications of the flu."
Doctors said flu complications usually include pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections and sinus problems. Novant Health and other health care providers are trying to raise awareness about the flu now, as the number of cases starts to grow.
Channel 9 has been told that South Carolina has not had any reports of flu-related deaths this season.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months or older get a yearly flu vaccination. For the second year in a row, the CDC is recommending the injectable vaccine instead of the nasal spray due to concerns about the spray’s effectiveness.
According to studies cited by the CDC, vaccination against the flu can:
- Protect people who are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from flu, like older adults, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions (including obesity) and young children
- Make illness milder and reduce the risk of more serious outcomes
- Protect pregnant women and their developing babies
People should take the following precautions to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses:
- Stay home when sick until fever-free for at least 24 hours
- Wash hands frequently, preferably with soap and water
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly
The North Carolina Division of Public Health posts updates on flu surveillance data every Thursday during flu season at http://flu.nc.gov.
Flu shots are available at hospitals, pharmacies, private medical offices, some federally qualified health care centers and local health departments. The Flu Vaccine Finder at flu.nc.gov can help people find flu clinics near them.
For more information on the flu from the CDC, visit their website.
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