The number of North Carolinians who have died during the current flu season more than doubled over the past week to 21, including the first youth victim, the N.C. Division of Public Health reported Thursday.
There were nine deaths reported for the week that ended Jan. 4, along with two deaths from previous weeks.
Of those deaths, five were those ages 65 and older, three were ages 50 to 64, two were ages 25 to 49 and one was age 5 to 17.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services cautions that the weekly report count does not represent all flu-associated deaths in the state because many go undiagnosed or unreported.
The division does not release the victims’ hometown, county, age or gender for privacy reasons, but said the youth who died was from the western part of the state.
Of the 21 who have died in the state, 14 were age 65 and older, three were 50 to 64, three were 25 to 49 and one from 5 to 17.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported there had been at least 2,100 deaths from flu, including 27 deaths among children, as of Jan. 4.
However, North Carolina has not been listed among the 19 states, including Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, considered already reporting high levels of flu.
CDC spokesman said one reason why the flu season has been more virulent this time is because it’s the first time since 1992-1993 that influenza B has been identified more often than influenza A nationally.
For North Carolina, there have been 1,473 confirmed cases of influenza B (unknown strain), compared with 781 influenza A (unknown), 284 of 2009 A(H1N1) and 24 of A(H3).
“It’s good news in the fact that hopefully it’ll be a less severe season in terms of deaths, but it’s still looking like it will be a strong flu season,” Pauley said.
“We’re not sure when it could peak, but it could be sometime between now and February.”
Dr. Christopher Ohl, infectious disease expert with Wake Forest Baptist Health, said Thursday that influenza A "is typically more severe, particularly among older adults or people with underlying medical problems. Influenza B tends to be less severe and usually affects children more than adults."
Ohl said that Wake Forest Baptist has seen an increase in the number of influenza A cases this week.
"As we see the shift to influenza A, we expect the severity to increase, especially among older adults or those with underlying health problems," Ohl said.
"Vaccination is still the best way to protect against the flu, so it is not too late to receive the influenza vaccine."
Vaccine is recommended for those age 6 months and older.
There were 4,836 flu-like cases reported in North Carolina last week, down from 4,883 during the week that ended Dec. 28 and 3,360 during the week that ended Dec. 21.
The traditional flu season runs from Oct. 1 through March 31, though the flu has lingered well into April and May during some seasons.
For the 2019-20 flu season, DHHS extended the reporting period to be completed with the week that ends May 16.
At this time of the flu seasons, there were 21 deaths in 2018-19, 36 in 2017-18, 11 in 2016-17, none in 2015-16, 67 in 2014-15 and 23 in 2013-14.
Altogether, there were 208 flu-related deaths in the 2018-19 season for North Carolina, as well as 391 in 2017-18, 218 in 2016-17, 60 in 2015-16, 219 in 2014-15 and 107 in 2013-14.
Besides the elderly, other vulnerable groups are children younger than 5, pregnant women, people with pre-existing medical conditions, and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care centers.