ORANGE COUNTY – Three North Carolinians have died from the flu, according to State health officials, marking the first deaths of the annual flu season.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that the patients were from Eastern North Carolina, the Triad region, and the Charlotte area. They were middle-aged adults who were at increased risk for influenza complications due to underlying medical conditions.

Pam McCall, Director of Personal Health Services for the Orange County Health Department, said that flu season runs from September until around March. The number of cases typically peaks in January or February.

McCall said it is not too late for people to get their annual flu shot.

“It does take two weeks for the shot to become effective and for the antibodies to develop in your body,” McCall said. “The flu season is continuing, and we are getting reports of more positive flu tests, so people should go ahead and get the shot now. It is really the only way to prevent the flu.”

The Center for Disease Control recommends that people six months and older get vaccinated for the flu.

“People who are elderly, children under age two, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions are more susceptible to the complications of the flu,” McCall said. “So if they got the flu, it may lead to something more serious.”

The vaccine protects against various strains of flu virus circulating this year, including H1N1. It is available in nasal spray and shot form.

“I really would encourage everyone to get an annual flu vaccine, and in addition to that, to use the other precautions such as hand washing, staying home when you are sick, and covering your cough.”

McCall said the flu vaccine is offered at the Orange County Health Department. To find other locations where the vaccine is administered, click here.