NORTH CAROLINA – State health officials reported Friday that seven more people died last week from flu complications, bringing the total number to 64.

Judy Butler, Community Health Services Supervisor for the Orange County Health Department, acknowledges it’s been a bad year for the flu in North Carolina, the second-worst in recent memory (107 flu deaths were reported during the swine flu outbreak of 2009-10).

“It looks like from the number of people who were being seen by medical providers for flu-like illnesses, that we are still above where we have been some years at this time,” says Butler.

She confirms the state’s number – 64 North Carolinians have died from flu complications so far this year, as of February 8.

Last year, the state reported 59 deaths for the whole season. The flu season typically lasts from November through March.

According to Butler, no Orange County residents are reported to have died of flu this year. She says that while some deaths occurred at UNC Hospitals, those were patients that were transferred from other counties.

Contrary to what a lot of people may believe, extreme weather has little to do with the spread of the flu. But it can be a small factor.

“If someone had had an extreme weather exposure to the point that their immune system was weakened, it would make them more susceptible,” Butler says. “I would not say that the weather contributed beyond the point that you would have had people inside, and closer in proximity to each other.”

The flu season peaks at different times, and this year it’s peaking early. In the meantime Butler says it’s never too late to get a flu shot.

“They’ll be available all the way until they expire, which will be in June,” she says.

She adds that even though some people get the shot and still get sick, that’s no reason to dismiss vaccines.

“Flu vaccine’s not 100 percent effective,” says Butler. “But it’s the best thing there is.”

Plus, she says, those who were vaccinated and got the flu anyway can take heart in knowing that, without the vaccine, it could have been a lot worse.