The number of flu-related deaths in the state had a slight uptick as the traditional March 31 end of the season approaches.
There were five deaths for the week that ended March 21, as well as six from previous weeks. That brings the total number of deaths to 149, the N.C. Division of Public Health reported Thursday.
Of the additional deaths, seven were ages 65 and older and four were ages 50 to 64.
The division does not release a victim’s hometown, county, age or gender for privacy reasons.
Of the 149 who have died so far this flu season, 87 were 65 or older, 38 were ages 50 to 64, 19 were ages 25 to 49, three were ages 5 to 17 and one each were ages 18 to 24 and age 0 to 4.
The number of reported flu cases decreased by 14.8% to 4,280. The seasonal peak was 7,201 cases that occurred in the week that ended Feb. 8.
The state Department of Health and Human Services has extended this flu season’s reporting period to the week that ends May 16. The typical flu season is measured as Oct. 1 through March 31.
DHHS cautions that the weekly count does not represent all flu-associated deaths in the state because many could go undiagnosed or unreported.
Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist, said March 12 that the flu season peaked several weeks ago, but the number of new cases “is extending longer than I would have liked.”
Ohl said there is unlikely to be a mutation of the flu and coronavirus with cases of both locally “since of (the nearly 119,000 cases) globally the coronavirus has changed very little.”
On Jan. 8, all of the Triad’s main hospital systems began prohibiting visitors 12 years and younger because children are more likely to get sick and spread the flu. Those hospitals include Forsyth and Wake Forest Baptist medical centers in Winston-Salem and Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro.
Exceptions may be made in special circumstances, such as visiting a dying family member.
On March 11, the same health care systems began tighter visitor restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic. They are asking the public not to visit — even if healthy and regardless of age — patients who are not immediate family members “unless absolutely necessary.”
Influenza A became the most prevalent strain in North Carolina three weeks ago, currently with 5,592 confirmed cases, followed by 4,454 cases of influenza B, 1,859 cases of 2009 A(H1N1) and 56 cases of A(H3).
A spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that one reason why this flu season has been more virulent is because it’s the first time since 1992-93 that influenza B has been identified more often than influenza A nationally.
The number of deaths in North Carolina’s past flu seasons, at this point totaled 174 in 2018-19, 348 in 2017-18, 146 in 2016-17, 20 in 2015-16, 202 in 2014-15 and 92 in 2013-14.
At the end of past seasons, the number of flu-related deaths in North Carolina was 208 in 2018-19, 391 in 2017-18, 218 in 2016-17, 60 in 2015-16, 219 in 2014-15 and 107 in 2013-14.