CHAPEL HILL – Five more deaths due to the flu were reported last week, bringing the total number of deaths in North Carolina to at least 33, according to figures released Thursday by the State Department of Health and Human Services.
The death of a child due to the flu was reported in Alamance County Wednesday, but was not included in the numbers released this week. One other child died earlier this month due to influenza.
The Center for Disease Control recommends that people six months and older get vaccinated for the flu.
Pam McCall, Director of Personal Health Services for the Orange County Health Department, said that it is particularly important that families with infants get the flu vaccine to keep the virus from spreading to the child. She recommended that pregnant women also get vaccinated.
“Once those antibodies develop in the women’s system, she passed them along to her baby so that when the baby is born, he or she will have some of what they call passive antibodies or passive immunity to the flu,” McCall said. “That will help protect them to a certain degree even though they [the infant] can’t get the vaccine.”
McCall said that the number of deaths is not unusual at this stage of the flu season.
“Last year at this time the total number of deaths was 38, so we are around the same number.”
Typical seasonal flus tend to impact very young children with underdeveloped immune systems or the elderly who have weakened immune systems.
But for the 2013-2014 flu season, 15 of the total number of deaths have occurred among adults aged 25 to 49. The majority of those flu deaths were due to the H1N1 strain.
H1N1, which is also carried by pigs, caused a world-wide pandemic in 2009. McCall said it impacted younger people then as well.
“I am not sure why—I don’t think there is real clear information about why this particular virus [H1N1] affects younger people more, but that does seem to be what happens.”
McCall said peak flu season is upon us. The number of cases typically increases in January and February, though she added that in 2013, there were flu deaths reported as late as May.
It is not too late for people to get their annual flu shot, but McCall said it does take two weeks after inoculation for the antibodies to develop in your body and become effective.
“I do have some good news—the vaccine closely matches the circulating virus including the H1N1. The message is still to get a flu vaccination.”
McCall said if you do come down with the flu, the antiviral medication TAMIFLU® can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms.
The flu vaccine is offered at the Orange County Health Department. To find other locations where the vaccine is administered, click here.