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Flu kills 8 more in NC; death toll at least 74 since November

RALEIGH Eight more people died of flu-related illnesses in North Carolina last week, according to numbers released Thursday by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The virus has now killed at least 74 people in the state since the flu season began in November.

Of those, 54 were between the ages of 24 and 65. Young and middle-aged adults are most vulnerable to the dominant H1N1 strain of the virus this year.

The vaccine developed for use this year is effective, though not perfect, in preventing infection from the H1N1 strain. One reason young adults have been affected more this flu season is that their vaccination rates are lower than older people’s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu vaccine appears to have a critical and perhaps even life-saving effect beyond simply warding off the illness, according to a recent study by Duke University researchers. The study suggests that getting vaccinated isn’t just important for avoiding a mild bout with the flu, but also may help in avoiding hospitalization or even death if you do contract it.

Researchers analyzed the first 55 patients treated for the virus at Duke University Hospital this flu season, from November through Jan. 8. Of the 22 patients who had to be placed in intensive care, only two had been vaccinated before getting sick.

Dr. Cameron Wolfe, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at Duke, said that even though the sample size was small, such a stark statistic stood out.

Wolfe noted that the study underlined the H1N1 strain’s ability to hit previously healthy young people and hard. The 55 people in the study had a median age of 28.5 years, and 48 of them were infected with the H1N1 virus.

Of the 33 patients in the study who were admitted to regular wards rather than the ICU, 11 had been vaccinated. Most of those were immune compromised, chronically ill, or were on a medication that weakened the vaccine’s protection.

The study was published this month in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

At least seven people in North Carolina have died from the flu each week since early January, but other indicators suggest the impact of the virus is waning statewide. Both state surveillance networks of health care providers showed that the percentage of patients showing flu symptoms has fallen from its peak earlier in the season.

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