First decline in flu deaths since Feb. 3

RALEIGH—According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the number of flu-related deaths in North Carolina dropped to 17 last week. This brings the total for the current flu season to 165 state health officials said Thursday. The week’s death toll includes another eight people who died in previous weeks and were later determined to have had the flu,

Last week marked the first decline in flu deaths since the week ending Feb. 3 when there were 39 confirmed fatalities.

“Interim estimates of vaccine effectiveness released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the vaccine is 36 percent effective this season and 59 percent effective for children 6 months to 8 years old,” DHHS said in a statement.

“Overall, the vaccine has reduced the risk of getting sick from the flu and having to go to the doctor by about a third,” state epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore said. Emergency rooms and clinics continue to see large amounts of influenza activity  and do not believe the region has reached a peak for the season, which typically ends March 31.

For this flu season, there have been:

  • 118 deaths of people 65 or older,
  • 37 from ages 50 to 64,
  • six from ages 25 to 49,
  • three from ages 5 to 17 and
  • one from birth to age 4.

By comparison, the 2016-17 season had 219 confirmed deaths related to the flu and the 2014-15 season had 218.

According to DHHS, there were 1,438 confirmed flu cases last week among the state’s seven largest hospital networks, representing 17.4 percent of the 8,235 confirmed flu cases those hospitals have experienced for the season.

By comparison, for the week that ended Feb. 3, there were 1,543 confirmed flu cases.

Besides the elderly, other vulnerable population groups are children younger than 5, pregnant women and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease. The predominant strain is influenza A known as H3N2. Flu vaccine is protecting about one 1 in 3 people who have received the shot.