She urged residents to take time out of their holiday activities to get their annual flu vaccination.
"It is very unusual for us to see this many deaths so early in the flu season," Dr. Gerald said.
Gerald said the flu vaccine being offered this year is very effective against the most common strains circulating in the state.
"So we strongly recommend that anyone over 6 months old be vaccinated," she said.
Schools and long-term care facilities have been hardest hit by the outbreaks.
Gerald said pregnant women, people with chronic diseases, very young children and the elderly are most at risk for serious flu-related complications.
Gerald said a few simple precautions can also slow the spread of the illness:
- stay home when you are sick
- wash your hands regularly with soap and water
- cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly
State-supplied flu vaccine is available at no charge from most local health departments and many providers. Contact your local health department or find a flu vaccine clinic near you by visiting flu.nc.gov.