North Carolina experienced last week its largest fatality total to date for the 2017-18 flu season with an overall increase of 25 victims for the week that ended Jan. 20.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that the overall total climbed to 67.
The total includes four people who died in previous weeks and were later determined to have had the flu.
“We continue to see high amounts of influenza activity in our clinics and hospitals,” said Dr. David Priest, medical director for infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship at Novant Health Inc.
“We have not reached peak season as of yet. There is still significant flu activity in the state of North Carolina and in the Triad area. “
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.
Seventeen of the 25 new flu-related deaths were individuals ages 65 and older, while six were ages 50 to 64, and one each from ages 25 to 49 and ages 5 to 17.
The News & Observer reported that Emily Grace Muth, 6, of Cary, was the child victim from last week. According to media reports, Muth did not receive a flu shot.
For the season, there have been 42 elderly deaths, 18 from ages 50 to 64, four from ages 25 to 49 and three from ages 5 to 17.
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.
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.
Flu-related child visitor restrictions are expected to remain in place at Triad hospitals through the end of the flu season, which typically is March 31.
Hospitals applying the restrictions on visitors ages 12 and under include Novant and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Cone Health and all of their affiliates. Also included are High Point Regional Health System, which is in the process of being acquired by Wake Forest Baptist, and affiliates of Carolinas Healthcare System.
Children ages 12 and under are not allowed to visit patients “except for extenuating family circumstances.” In those cases, parents or guardians are asked to get permission from the patient’s nurse to allow children to visit.
Children are allowed to enter the hospitals to receive treatment.
People who are ill with a fever, cough, cold or stomach virus are asked not to visit patients at hospitals.
Dr. Cynthia Snider, infectious disease specialist for Cone, said between 10 percent and 13 percent of individuals recently entering the Cone emergency department have had the flu.
“It remains too early to tell, but I’m going to be hopeful,” Snider said. “Our data from the last 10 days suggests we may be near the peak.”