CHARLOTTE, NC (Cassie Cope/ The Charlotte Observer - Twelve more people died from the flu in North Carolina, bringing the total deaths to 276 this flu season, according to state statistics released Thursday.
That's 58 more deaths than the next highest totals in the past decade: Last year 218 N.C. residents died because of the flu and the same number died in the 2014-15 season. Wake County reported four flu deaths for the week ending March 3, the same reporting period for the added deaths statewide.
Mecklenburg County does not report flu statistics until the end of the season.
This flu season has been worse than others because the H3N2 strain has been the predominant strain this year, said David Priest, the medical director for infection prevention for Novant Health.
That strain is particularly virulent, he said, and causes more serious clinical disease and more hospitalizations.
The strain is thought to be so severe in part because it mutates faster than other strains, which makes it challenging on individuals' immune systems and on the population, Priest said.
The strain attacks elderly and young children who have more underlying issues and compromised health, said influenza epidemiologist Anita Valiani.
While the flu season has been severe, it was not a pandemic, Priest said.
That's because a pandemic is when a new strain is introduced to the population that immune systems have not yet seen before.
The flu vaccine this year was actually a pretty good match, Priest said, adding that just because it is a good match does not mean it is more effective.
The effectiveness this year against the virulent H3N2 strain was only about 25 percent, Priest said.
Priest added that the National Institutes of Health have a strategic plan for developing a universal flu vaccine, that would hopefully cover most strains and last more than a year.
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.
North Carolina still has widespread flu activity, and has nearly a dozen more weeks in the season to go.
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, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home from work or school if they are sick.