Flu shot

The total of flu-related deaths has reached 16 in North Carolina for the 2018-19 season, including three victims last week, state health officials reported Thursday.

Since the last report, there has been four victims in the age 65 and older category and two in the 50-to-64 age group.

Three individuals died during the week that ended Jan. 5, and three others died during the week that ended Dec. 29.

The flu season officially began Oct. 1 and typically runs through March 31, although it has lingered several weeks at times.

The N.C. Division of Public Health has said it will not release victims’ hometown, county, age and gender for privacy reasons.

To date, 12 of the victims were ages 65 and older, while two each were in the 25-to-49 age group and 50-to-64 age group.

The death rate is at the lower range of the scale for this time frame compared with the previous five flu seasons.

For the same time period, there were 36 deaths in the 2017-18 flu season, 11 deaths in 2016-17, no deaths in 2015-16, 67 deaths in 2014-15 and 23 deaths in 2013-14.

Besides the elderly, other vulnerable groups are children younger than 5, pregnant women and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Added this year is the category of residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The division reported the number of flu-like cases is increasing steadily, reaching 2,725 last week or about 2.7 percent of individuals reporting to health-care providers tracking the flu.

Part of the division’s strategy for measuring the presence of the flu is tracking positive test results for selected respiratory viruses on a weekly basis by public health epidemiologists located in seven of the largest hospital networks across the state.

From those test results, the A (subtype unknown) flu virus has been the dominant form to date with 531 of the 744 confirmed positive cases, followed by 129 cases of A(H1), 67 of A/H3 and 17 of B.

No Triad hospital has imposed restrictions on young visitors this year.

"As in previous years, we are collaborating with the other area health systems," Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center spokesman Joe McCloskey said Thursday. "Any restrictions will be announced and implemented at the same time."

Cone Health spokesman Doug Allred said its hospital facilities have asked individuals "who don’t feel well not to visit unless they are there for treatment."

Several Triangle hospitals will implement, starting Friday, visitor restrictions for youths.

That includes UNC Rex Hospital in Raleigh and UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough for those 11 and under, while WakeMed's restrictions are those 12 and under.

In each case, children requiring medical care will be seen.

However. UNC Rockingham in Eden has not imposed visitor restrictions.

WakeMed also is prohibiting any visitors who have a fever, are vomiting, have diarrhea or other cold-and-flu symptoms, according to The News & Observer.

The 2017-18 flu season was the deadliest in modern-day North Carolina history, with 391 deaths.

The totals were broken down as: 290 deaths among people 65 or older; 71 among ages 50 to 64; 19 among ages 25 to 49; six among ages 5 to 17; four among ages 18 to 24; and one child under 4.

Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious diseases expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said in November that “it’s always hard to predict in advance how severe a flu season will be.”

“We do not have any indications that this flu season will be more severe than normal.”

Flu vaccines typically are available in doctor’s offices, healthcare clinics, county health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as from many employers and schools. Individuals can use the FluFinder at www.flu.nc.gov to find a clinic near them.

The shots typically are free for individuals with private insurance and Medicare and Medicaid recipients.

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rcraver@wsjournal.com

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@rcraverWSJ

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