NC flu deaths more than double this season. It’s not too late to get a vaccine.

NC flu deaths more than double this season. It’s not too late to get a vaccine.

CHARLOTTE, NC (Cassie Cope/ The Charlotte Observer - The number of North Carolina flu deaths has more than doubled this season compared with the same period last year, according to state statistics.

North Carolina is on the cusp of peak flu season, which normally hits highest numbers in February and March.

Twenty N.C. residents died because of the flu from Oct. 1, 2017 through Dec. 30. For a similar period the year before, there were eight deaths. A total of 218 N.C. residents died from the flu in the last season.

"It seems like it's going to be a worse season than we've had the past couple of years," said Catherine Passaretti, the medical director for infection prevention with Carolinas HealthCare System.

The severity and length of a flu season varies every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Every flu season is different," said Anita Valiani, a N.C. flu epidemiologist.

Valiani advised residents who have not yet gotten a flu shot to do so now, because it takes about two weeks to build immunity.

The flu vaccine reduces the risk of illness by 40 percent to 60 percent when the circulating flu virus is like the vaccine viruses, according to the CDC.

If someone gets the flu even if they got the flu shot, then the illness may be milder, Valiani said.

The CDC also addressed reports that the flu vaccine is only 10 percent effective. That number is an Australian estimate of the effectiveness of the vaccine against one flu strain that circulated during Australia's most recent flu season.

In the United States, the vaccine's overall effectiveness was 39 percent last flu season, which the CDC says is a better indicator of the effectiveness this year than the Australian estimate.

Still, it is too early to predict this year's effectiveness.

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

If people don't feel well, they should stay at home and not go to work.

Patients can also take advantage of virtual visits if they are experiencing some flu symptoms so they don't expose themselves to germs in the waiting room or expose other people to what they have, Passaretti.

However, if symptoms are severe, including not being able to tolerate liquids, then patients should go to urgent care or the emergency room, she said.