North Carolina has experienced its first confirmed flu-related death for the 2018-19 season, state health regulators said Thursday.
The individual was age 65 and older and lived in the central part of the state. Forsyth County health officials said the death was not of a local resident.
"To protect the privacy of the family, the person's hometown, county, age and gender will not be released," the N.C. Division of Public Health said in a statement. It is a continuation of a policy it has followed for several years.
Flu season typically begins on Oct. 1 and lasts through March 31, although there have been recent seasons where the flu and flu-related deaths lingered for several additional weeks.
The 2017-18 flu season was the deadliest in modern-day North Carolina history at 391.
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.
“We have already seen some sporadic cases of the flu this year, but we don’t anticipate widespread activity until November or so,” Dr. Christopher Ohl, infectious diseases expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said at the start of the season.
“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.
“Everyone over the age of 6 months is urged to get their flu vaccine this year, before the end of October if possible,” Ohl said.
Nationwide, the CDC said there were more than 80,000 flu-related deaths in 2017-18 — the highest level since the 1976-77 season. The death total had ranged in recent years from 12,000 to 56,000.
Flu vaccines typically are available in doctor’s offices, health care clinics, county health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as by 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.
Dr. Daniel Jernigan, with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in late September that the most common flu strain found so far is considered milder than last season’s.
“Early signs are that the vaccine is shaping up to be a good match,” Jernigan said.
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.
Nationwide, the CDC said there were more than 80,000 flu-related deaths — the highest level since the 1976-77 season. The death total had ranged in recent years from 12,000 to 56,000.
Local hospitals limited visitor restrictions for children 12 and under last season from Jan. 12 to March 16.