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A child from the central part of North Carolina is the first to die from a flu-related illness during the 2017-18 season, state health officials said Thursday.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported three deaths for the week that ended Dec. 23.

There have been 12 overall for the season, which officially begins Oct. 1 and lasts through March 31, although some seasons begin early and can linger into late April to mid-May.

DHHS said the child was between the ages of 5 and 17, but declined to provide the gender, hometown and county, citing privacy concerns.

Another death was an individual between the ages of 25 and 49.

“If anything positive comes from this tragic loss, we hope it will be that people understand that flu is a serious illness," Dr. Zack Moore, the state's epidemiologist, said in a statement.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that up to half of children who die from flu have no known medical condition that would have put them at higher risk.

"Flu vaccination is the most effective protection against flu, and it’s still not too late to get a flu shot," Moore said.

Overall, there have been six elderly deaths, three were ages 50 to 64, two were ages 25 to 49 and one between ages 5 and 17.

There has not been a reported flu-related death in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina. Some county health directors decline to confirm flu-related deaths, per DHHS direction.

By comparison, the 2016-17 season had 219 confirmed deaths related to the flu. That represented the highest level of flu-related deaths since DHHS began providing victim totals in 2008.

The CDC is projecting viruses H1N1, H3N2, B/Victoria lineage and a second potential lineage of B viruses.

Local and state health-care officials encourage individuals to get their flu shots early since it typically takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu.

Besides the elderly, other vulnerable population groups are children under 5, pregnant women and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

Nationally, flu season has arrived stronger than projected, according to federal health officials. The predominant strain picked up in lab tests so far is a strain of influenza A known as H3N2.

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