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RALEIGH — Officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced Dec. 14 the first reported flu-related death of the 2021–22 flu season.

An adult in the western part of the state died due to complications of influenza during the second week of December. The person tested positive for influenza and negative for COVID-19. To protect the privacy of the family, the person’s hometown, county, age and gender will not be released.

“This is a sad reminder that flu can be a serious illness and can lead to complications and even death in some cases,” said State Epidemiologist Zack Moore, M.D., MPH. “With flu cases increasing and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for people to get a flu vaccine this year, as well as a COVID-19 vaccination or booster if they have not already done so.”

While influenza cases and deaths were historically low during the 2020-2021 influenza season, the number of influenza deaths reported in North Carolina ranged from 186 to 391 during the five prior seasons. Currently, North Carolina is seeing more influenza activity than at any time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the midst of the flu season, creating even more demand of our state’s hospital beds,” said NCDHHS Chief Deputy Secretary for Health Kody Kinsley. “It is important to get a COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot as soon as possible, and get your booster when you become eligible, to protect yourself and your family and to preserve hospital bed capacity for emergencies.”

The CDC recommends flu vaccination every year for everyone 6 months and older. Vaccination is the best way to prevent infection with the flu. Vaccination can also make illness milder for those who do get the flu, making it especially important for those at higher risk of more serious outcomes, such as people over 65 years old, children younger than 5, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Flu and COVID-19 vaccines can be administered at the same visit, and the CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 5 years old and older and COVID-19 booster for everyone 16 years of age and older when eligible.

Flu vaccinations are available at hospitals, pharmacies, private medical offices, some federally qualified health care centers and local health departments. To find a flu vaccine near you, visit vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccines. To find a COVID-19 vaccine location, or for more information about COVID-19 vaccines in North Carolina, visit MySpot.nc.gov or call the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Help Center for free at (888) 675-4567.

Anyone who thinks they have the flu should contact their doctor right away to see if they need treatment with a prescription antiviral drug. Early treatment with an antiviral drug can help prevent flu infections from becoming more serious. Treatment with a prescription antiviral drug is especially important for hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness and those who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health.

In North Carolina, flu infections are most common from late fall to early spring with activity usually peaking in January or February. The following precautions should be taken to protect against the spread of flu, COVID-19 and other viruses:

Continue to practice the 3Ws

  • — wearing a face covering over your nose and mouth, waiting 6 feet apart, and washing your hands often can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and flu.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly.
  • Stay home when sick, except to seek medical care or testing and take steps to avoid spreading infection to others in your home, including:
  • Staying in a separate room from other household members, if possible
  • Using a separate bathroom, if possible
  • Avoiding contact with other members of the household and pets
  • Not sharing personal household items, like cups, towels and utensils
  • Wearing a mask when around other people, if you are able to

Individuals who feel ill should call ahead before going to a doctor’s office, local health department or urgent care to avoid exposing others. COVID-19 and flu symptoms are similar, so consult with a doctor about getting tested for flu and/or COVID-19. Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough and/or sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most common in children)

A combined COVID-19 and influenza surveillance summary that includes information on flu-related deaths and activity is posted every Thursday at covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard/cli-surveillance.

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