107 in NC killed by flu this year

The state has declared flu season to be over, and it was a particularly deadly one for young and middle-aged adults

By Jay Price
The News & Observer 

RALEIGH, N.C. — A particularly deadly flu season for young and middle-age adults has apparently ended, with no new deaths reported in the weekly update figures released Thursday by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The number of suspected flu cases tallied at health care facilities also has trailed off, said Zack Moore, a medical epidemiologist with the N.C. Division of Public Health.

The toll stands at 107 known deaths related to flu since the first in mid-November. The most recent flu-related deaths were reported early this month.

Typically, the virus begins showing up in late fall and cases subside by mid-May, when the state typically issues its last weekly flu statistics report of the season, though public health officials track the illness year-round. The report Thursday was the last of this season.

An unusually high number of people across the state were reported to have died from flu-related illness, 107 people, compared with 59 in the previous season and just nine in the season that ended in spring 2011.

That may be deceptive, though, Moore said. The sheer volume of cases was substantially greater in the 2012-2013 season than this season, but the main flu variant then, H3N2, is more dangerous to older adults.

“Part of this is deaths among the elderly may not get reported because they aren’t seen as that unusual,” he said. “Someone, say, who is a nursing home resident with a lot of underlying conditions may not even be tested when they succumb.”

This season, though, young and middle-age adults were particularly vulnerable to the dominate strain of the virus, H1N1. Nearly two-thirds of those reported to have died from flu-related causes were between the ages of 24 and 65.

Another likely factor in the deaths, Moore said, was vaccination rates. Younger adults tend to feel less worried about flu and are less likely to get their shots.

“The elderly always do the best when you look at statistics for who gets flu vaccinations,” Moore said. “And the 25-to-49 group is always horrible about getting vaccinated.”

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