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Health

2016-2017 Flu Season Proved Long and Deadly

chart of 2016-17 flu deaths
Courtesy of the NC Department of Health and Human Services
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Flu-related deaths peaked twice: in February and March 2017.

Flu season is over, and this year's was deadlier than usual. North Carolina health officials recorded more deaths to flu complications this season than in any year since they began tracking them in 2009.

Influenza claimed the lives of  more than 219 people in North Carolina from last October to the end of May. That's almost four times the previous season's death toll.

The number of flu deaths per week peaked twice this season, contributing to the high toll, according to Anita Valiani, a flu epidemiologist with the state division of public health. She said health officials saw a small spike in deaths around Christmas, but that proved to be just the start. 

"We thought that was our peak, that we were kind of done, and then it picked up. It just goes to show that flu is very fickle," Valiani said.

Deaths peaked twice more in late February and late March.

"A double peak is usually attributable to the different strains of flu that circulate. One may pick up early on in the season, and another flu strain picks up later on in the season," Valiani said.

Valiani said different strains can be more problematic for different segments of the population. This past year's flu was especially deadly for the elderly and people with existing health conditions.

In addition to the double peak, Valiani said this season was particularly deadly because it lingered. She says the unpredictability of flu seasons is a good reason to get vaccinated.

"People sometimes say, 'Oh I don't need to get vaccinated, it'll go away real quick.' Seventeen weeks is a long flu season, and that wasn't going away so fast," Valiani said.

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