First two NC flu deaths reported, both victims from Forsyth County

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RALEIGH — North Carolina has reported the state’s first two flu deaths for the 2012-2013 flu season and both victims were adults from Forsyth County.

According to State Health Director Laura Gerald, one of the individuals was at higher risk for complications from flu because of advanced age and pre-existing medical conditions.  However, the other had no known risk factors for severe influenza illness.

Neither had received the flu vaccine, Gerald added. 

Forsyth County Health Director Marlon Hunter confirmed the deaths "occurred in Forsyth County." 

Hunter said the victims died within the past month. 

In a statement, Gerald said, “We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of these two individuals. This is a tragic reminder of the potentially devastating effect flu can have on people at any age. With flu cases on the rise in North Carolina, it is especially important for the public to take action to protect themselves and their families.”

Dr. Ben Sayers, a Forsyth doctor says he's seen am increase in flu diagnoses.

"So far, over the past two to three weeks, we are starting to see the flu show up positive on our rapid screening process."

He urges that everyone needs to protect themselves from the virus.

"The infection can overtake a young healthy system just as it can a weakened one and the  inflammatory response that your own body mounts against the virus can damage your body enough to cause, in unfortunate cases, death."

Statewide surveillance shows that flu activity is increasing in North Carolina; the number of positive flu tests recorded by the State Laboratory of Public Health has more than quadrupled since early November.

Influenza kills approximately 25,000 people and causes 220,000 hospitalizations every year in the United States.

In Forsyth County, Hunter says flu vaccines are free at the health department.  Appointments are not necessary and there is no verification process, but those seeking vaccines are asked to show identification.