Flu claims second victim of season in Forsyth County

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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — A second Forsyth resident, an elderly woman, has died from flu-related complications, the county Health Department said Thursday.

Marlon Hunter, the department’s director, said the woman died Jan. 30. A middle-age Forsyth woman died Jan. 23.

As with other flu-related deaths, the two Forsyth victims were not identified for privacy reasons.

The statewide death toll from the current flu season remains at a high level, with 10 new victims last week, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday.

The total was down one from the previous week, which represents the weekly high since the flu season began Oct. 1.

There are at least 56 victims statewide with nearly two months remaining in the typical flu season.

By comparison, there were 59 deaths altogether in the 2012-13 flu season, which had a peak week of 11 victims the third week of January.

State health officials say most of the victims have had some kind of health condition that made them more vulnerable to the flu, which is typical in flu-related deaths. Those conditions can include heart disease, asthma or a respiratory illness, diabetes, immune-system problems, obesity and pregnancy.

Children under age 2 also are considered at a higher risk for the flu.

As has been the standard practice, DHHS officials did not disclosed the counties in which victims lived; however, some county health officials have been informing the public when a flu-related death has occurred in a county.

There also have been six flu-related deaths in Guilford County and one each in Alamance and Randolph counties.

The HIN1 strain, or swine flu, represented 145 of the 153 cases verified by the State Laboratory of Public Health through Saturday. That strain was included in the current flu vaccine.

“The vaccine status is known for 43 of the 56 reported flu deaths,” Clifford said. “Of these, nine had received flu vaccine and 34 had not,” DHHS spokeswoman Kirsti Clifford said.

Dr. James Lederer, an infectious disease physician and a vice president of clinical improvement for Novant Health Inc., said about 50 percent of the population typically gets a flu shot each season.

Altogether, there have been 12 victims ages 65 or older; 19 who were 50 to 64; 22 victims ages 25 to 49; two ages 5 to 17; and one victim under age 5.

By comparison, DHHS reported for the 2012-13 season that there were 36 deaths from those 65 and older, 16 deaths among those ages 50 to 64, six among ages 25 to 49, and one death among those 18 to 24.

Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said the H1N1 strain “tends to have more of a propensity to infect those younger more than the elderly, and cause them a more serious infection.”

The peak weeks for deaths from the flu season have varied in recent years.

For the 2010-11 season, most of the 36 deaths occurred during the first three weeks of February.

In the 2009-10 season, which had the most victims in recent memory – 91– most deaths occurred in October through December. It had a weekly peak of 13 flu-related deaths, with another week of 11 deaths.

Lederer and Ohl said some high totals of deaths in a week can be caused by a lag in reporting time.

They said it is probable that some people who died may have had the flu for weeks before their death. They agree a better measurement of the scope of any flu season is overall cases, not weekly measurements of death totals.

“If you test for the flu more with better testing measures, you’ll likely find it more,” Ohl said.

“Five years ago, people may have died from flu-related complications, but the cause of death may have been listed as pneumonia.”

The Forsyth health department is providing free flu shots from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesday; from 8:30 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. Thursdays; and from 8:30 to 11:45 a.m. Fridays.

Forsyth and Wake Forest Baptist medical center officials continue to evaluate influenza rates on a daily basis in determining whether to begin visitor restrictions.

Triad hospitals that have flu-related visitor restrictions include High Point Regional Hospital; Cone Health’s hospitals in Burlington (Alamance Regional), Greensboro (Moses Cone and Wesley Long) and Reidsville (Annie Penn); and Northern Hospital of Surry County in Mount Airy.

All visitor restrictions request that no routine hospital visits be made by anyone 18 and younger, and the hospitals are asking adults to voluntarily restrict their visitation if they are experiencing such symptoms as a runny nose, sore throat, fever and cough.

Visitor restriction exceptions tend to be made for serious emergencies or end-of-life situations. The policy also tends not to apply to patients under 18 who have a scheduled procedure or need emergency care or hospitalization.