CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With the flu still widespread across the Carolinas, doctors hope people will take the illness seriously, as people continue to die from complications.
North Carolina is coming off its deadliest flu season ever with 391 deaths, according to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services records.
This year, the worst of flu season is stretching well into March and, while not nearly as many people have died up until this point, state records show 187 families have had to bury their loved ones -- half of them in the last four weeks.
"The flu is still widespread in North Carolina," Mecklenburg County Health Department Medical Director Dr. Meg Sullivan said. "It can range from mild to very severe."
State records show the most severe cases continue to kill people in North Carolina, especially those 65 and older, followed by middle-aged adults, but younger adults, teens and young children are all represented.
Dr. Sullivan said this is no time to let your guard down.
"It is not too late for those people who have not gotten their vaccine," she said.
Dr. Sullivan knows every flu season is different and so are the strains that come with it.
NCDHHS reports an especially challenging strain contributed to the record number of flu deaths last season. It came the same year that the number of people getting their flu shots nationwide dropped to only 37 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Sullivan said while not perfect, the vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu, along with good hand washing and staying home if sick.
"If you have any signs or symptoms of the flu take it seriously and seek medical attention," she said.
She hopes that message is heard loud and clear, especially by children and older adults with persistent flu symptoms like high fever, fatigue and body aches.
While flu season appears to have peaked, state records show people can still get the flu well into May. One person even died last May in North Carolina.
In South Carolina, 269 people died last flu season compared to 52 so far this flu season, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Meanwhile, the state reports more than 2,000 hospitalizations compared to more than 4,000 all of last flu season.