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Third flu-related death reported in Forsyth County

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Flu shot (Stock photo)

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — A third Forsyth resident has died from flu-related complications, the county Health Department said today.

Marlon Hunter, the department’s director, said by email he could not provide the gender or age of the latest victim because he was not working at his office.

An elderly woman died Jan. 30, while a middle-age woman died Jan. 23.

As with other flu-related deaths, the latest Forsyth victim was not identified for privacy reasons.

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

The total for the week of Feb. 2-8 was down four from the previous two weeks, which represent the weekly highs for the flu season. The season began Sept. 29.

There are at least 64 victims statewide with six weeks 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.

In the 2009-10 season, which had the most victims in recent memory – 91 – most deaths occurred in October through December.

DHHS officials reported “influenza-like illness decreased” statewide last week, particularly in terms of emergency room admissions for acute respiratory illness at the state’s seven largest hospitals.

As has been the standard practice, DHHS officials did not disclose 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.

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.

The HIN1 strain, or swine flu, represented 165 of the 173 cases verified by the State Laboratory of Public Health through Saturday. That strain was included in the current flu vaccine.

DHHS spokeswoman Kirsti Clifford said the vaccine status was known for at least 43 of the reported flu deaths. Nine had received flu vaccine and 34 had not.

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 15 victims ages 65 or older; 21 who were 50 to 64; 25 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.

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.

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

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