North Carolina experienced its deadliest week for flu-related victims in more than three years with 34 confirmed fatalities, state health officials reported Thursday.
Counting another 11 people who died in previous weeks and were later determined to have had the flu, the state's total climbed to 140 as of Feb. 3, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
The state's fourth pediatric death, including the first in the birth to age 4 category, was among the 34 victims from last week.
The most recent peak was 41 deaths in the week that ended Jan. 3, 2015.
No flu-related deaths have been reported publicly in the Triad and Northwest N.C. Some county health directors have declined to disclose flu-related deaths, citing DHHS privacy policies.
However, there have been reports that the Charlotte area has been among the hardest hit by the flu in recent weeks.
Influenza experts at Triad hospitals have said their emergency rooms and clinics continue to see high amounts of influenza activity, so they do not believe the region has reached a peak for the season that typically ends March 31. Those hospitals have visitor restrictions on children ages 12 and under.
“We continue to see higher number of influenza cases each week so we have not reached the season’s peak," said Dr. David Priest, medical director for infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship for Novant Health Inc.
"Currently, we have four to five times more cases each week compared to the same time last year.”
According to DHHS, there were 1,543 confirmed flu cases last week among the state's seven largest hospital networks, representing 22.7 percent of the 6,797 confirmed flu cases those hospitals have experiences for the season.
Besides the child death, 34 were individuals ages 65 and older, while nine were ages 50 to 64 and one ages 25 to 49.
For the season, there have been 97 elderly deaths, 34 from ages 50 to 64, five 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, as well as 218 in the 2014-15 season.
At this point of the past four flu seasons, there were 25 deaths for 2016-17, three in 2015-16, 170 in 2014-15 and 68 in 2013-14.
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.
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. Flu vaccine is protecting about one in three people who have received the shot.