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People in NC keep dying from the flu. When will it end?

North Carolina flu death totals increased by 27 deaths, hitting 200, according to state statistics released Thursday.

Restrictions remain in place at local hospitals, including the newly named Atrium Health (Carolinas HealthCare System) and Novant Health’s Presbyterian Medical Center, which have banned visits to patients by children 12 and under.

“We can never completely predict when flu season will end,” said Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director of infectious disease at Atrium. The flu season can run into April or through the end of May, she said.

Medical experts are seeing a traditional switch in the type of flu strain that is circulating, which tends to happen closer to the end of flu season, however it varies every year, she said.

“Influenza isn’t you turn on a switch and you turn off a switch,” she said.

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Mecklenburg County officials do not release data until the end of the flu season. There was one death in Wake County.

Wake County’s epidemiologist said that the flu peaked last week and there is now a downward trend. However, officials warned there is still a lot of flu around so people can’t let their guard down yet.

Flu cases peak when there is lots of transmission in the community. The point when there are few cases depends on several factors, including weather, how people are congregating and timing, Passaretti said.

A new website and mobile app that tracks reports from doctors has continued to rank the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia area as a top flu hot spot.

A total 218 N.C. residents died from the flu last season, which stretched from October 2016 to May 2017. Most deaths occurred in February, March and April.

Nationwide, last season’s flu activity peaked in mid-March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was one of the later peaks on record. The flu season most commonly peaks between December and February, according to the CDC.

Anyone over 6 months of age should still get a flu shot, because there could be several weeks left in the season. The only exclusions are for people who have documented severe reactions to prior vaccinations.

People should continue to take precautions to prevent spreading germs, including washing their hands and covering coughs and sneezes.

“We just encourage everyone to continue to be vigilant,” Passaretti said. That includes throwing away used tissues and staying home from work or school when sick. “Be smart and protect yourself.”

(Raleigh) News & Observer staff writer John Murawski contributed.

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