As of Monday Jan. 27, 44 North Carolinians have died from the flu. State health officials have declared N.C.’s flu outbreak an epidemic. The most common flu strain in the 2013-2014 season is H1N1, which tends to hit young people and middle-aged adults the hardest.
“This year’s flu season is different than past seasons. It is unusual in that the groups of people who are being most affected are different than we’ve seen in the past,” said Stacie Saunders, the health education supervisor for Alamance county. “In past years, we have typically seen flu affect more elderly populations but this year, the flu is affecting young adults and middle-aged adults disproportionately.”
Since October 2013, one person under four, one person between 5 and 17, 19 people between 25 and 49, 14 people between 50 and 64 and nine people 65 and older have died from the flu in North Carolina.
The youngest victim, an Alamance county infant, was too young to receive the vaccine. The CDC expects the fatality rate to climb in the coming weeks, as flu season typically peaks during January and February.
In the 2012-2013 flu season, most flu-related deaths in N.C. occurred in the 65 and older age range, with only seven deaths among people ages 18 to 49. The most common strain of the virus during the 2012-2013 season was H3N2, which tends to be more severe than H1N1 outbreaks.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said only two people who died from the flu this season were vaccinated. According to the Center for Disease Control, people who get vaccinated are 60 percent less likely to contract the flu. Anyone above 6 months old is eligible for the vaccine. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems are highly encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Elon Health Services held vaccination days this past fall, and are currently offering vaccines as they are available. As of Jan. 19, 457 Elon students received vaccinations at the health clinic. Though many students have come to the clinic with flu-like symptoms, there has only been one confirmed case of H1N1.
“We have not seen a disproportional number of flu-like symptoms compared to other years so we would not report an elevated number of cases at this time,” said Jana Lynn Patterson, Dean of Elon’s Student Health and Wellness program.
Justin Brown, an Elon freshman, was diagnosed with the flu on Sunday. Justin did not get a flu shot, a decision he says he now regrets.
“I was aware the health center was giving them, but I usually don’t get the vaccine,” Brown said.
Though Elon Health Services only has a few vaccines left, it is not too late to get a flu shot at local pharmacies.
“If you have not already gotten a flu shot, we encourage people to do so. We also recommend taking additional precautions against illness, including washing your hands often with soap and water and staying away from others who may have the flu,” Saunders said.