Immunization (copy)

State health regulators confirmed Thursday that North Carolina has had its first two flu-related deaths of the 2017-18 season.

The season officially begins Oct. 1 and lasts through March 31, although some seasons begin early and can linger into late April to mid-May.

Both victims were ages 65 and older, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

One death occurred last week and the other in the week that ended Oct. 21. Neither victim came from Forsyth or Guilford counties, according to their respective health directors.

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 last flu season had at least 24 confirmed flu-related deaths in the Triad — 14 in Guilford County, six in Forsyth County and four in Randolph County. Some county health directors decline to confirm flu-related deaths, per DHHS direction.

For the 2016-17 season, statewide there were 151 reported deaths of individuals 65 and older, 42 in the 55-to-64 age group, 16 in the 25-to-54 age group, six in the 5-to-17 age groups, two in the birth-to-4 age group and two in the 18-to-24 age group.

For the current season, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are projecting viruses H1N1, H3N2, B/Victoria lineage and a second potential lineage of B viruses.

Dr. Christopher Ohl, infectious disease specialist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said in late September that "while it's difficult to try to predict this year's flu activity, at this time there are no indications it will be out of the ordinary."

"Flu viruses are constantly changing, and the vaccine this year has some minor adjustments to better match predicted circulating flu viruses," Ohl said.

Local and state health-care officials encourage individuals to get their flu shots sooner rather than later 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.

"The flu shot vaccination typically lasts six months, and you never really know when flu season is going to begin — or more importantly — when it's going to end," Novant Health Inc. said on its website. "So if you get it too soon and we get a late flu season, the immunity might have worn off before flu season is over."

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