North Carolina reports first flu death of 2021-2022 season

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- For the first time this season, a North Carolinian has died from the flu.

NC Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that an adult in the western part of the state died from influenza during the second week of December.

"Man, that's terrible. I'm surprised to hear that," Fayetteville resident Bea Hall told ABC11. "I highly suggest people go to get a flu shot."

The person tested positive for flu and negative for COVID-19.

"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."

Flu numbers were historically low last season. Health experts contribute that to COVID-19 shutdowns, mandatory mask mandates, social distancing and other widely utilized mitigation tactics.

However, with the wider availability of COVID-19 vaccines, those viral spread mitigation tactics are not being used as forcefully anymore. Health experts say that could result in an influenza bounce back.

Flu death numbers for the 2020-2021 season are not appearing on the NCDHHS flu website. For the five years prior, deaths ranged from 186 to 391 per year.

NCDHHS said the state is currently seeing more flu activity than at any other time since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

The agency is urging North Carolinians to get their flu shots.

Hall and her 14-year-old son Jonas got their flu shots last month.

"We didn't have any side effects, and we'll do it again next year," she said.

Currently, North Carolina is seeing more flu cases now than at any point during the pandemic, which started in March 2020.

Peak flu season is January and February in our state. And the symptoms of flu and Covid can feel similar: fever, cough, sore throat, congestion, chills and fatigue.

For Markus Reichert, who was visiting Fayetteville from Germany the flu shot is a no-brainer.

"It makes total sense in order to protect me," said Reichert. "People have very strong beliefs about the vaccine not working."

Ava Carr, another Fayetteville resident, told ABC11 she understands vaccine hesitancy.

"I respect that," Carr said. "I realize that-that's their decision. A lot of people just don't care to have something that's made up or man made in their bodies. So, I completely understand. But for people like me or people who have cancer, autoimmune diseases, then it's important that you get that, take care of yourself, because something as simple as a cold could be detrimental to you."

Health experts said people who are most at risk for flu complications include senior citizens, children younger than 5, pregnant women and people with health conditions.

To limit the spread, doctors say cover your sneezes or coughs, wash your hands, wear a mask, and stay home if you're sick.

In Cumberland County, flu shots are free and by appointment only at the Cumberland County Health Department on Ramsey Street.
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