The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the 2017-2018 flu season is the worst since the 2009 swine flu pandemic — and the number of reported flu-related deaths bear witness to that fact.

Flu and pneumonia were responsible for more than 9 percent of the deaths that happened in the United States during the first week of 2018, according to new data released Friday by the CDC.

State health officials reported 21 people in North Carolina died last week from the flu, bringing the total NC flu-related deaths this season to 67.

The virus circulating this year, H3N2, is particularly nasty. It's typically associated with more serious illnesses, higher rates of hospitalizations and more deaths.

What is H3N2?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Flu can cause mild to severe illness, but it also can turn deadly. H3N2 Flu is a subtype of influenza A.

What are the symptoms?

The majority of people who get the flu have mild illness and don't need antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, which can lessen the symptoms and shorten the duration of illness. Symptoms vary from person to person. In general, people who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms, according to the CDC:

Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone with flu will have fever)

• Cough

• Sore throat

• Runny or stuffy nose

• Muscle or body aches

• Headaches

• Fatigue (tiredness)

• Vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults

How to avoid the flu

The best way to avoid the flu — or to avoid spreading the flu — is cleanliness.

• Wash your hands frequently, soap up between your fingers and don’t forget your thumbs, and scrub for about 20 seconds.

• Launder bedding frequently

• Wash towels every day or two

• Disinfect the remote controls, light switches, doorknobs and phones

• Keep used tissues in a trashcan, and empty the can frequently

• If someone has the flu, they should sleep in a separate bed

• Isolate the patient’s toothbrush. When the person recovers, throw the old one away and replace it

When will flu season end?

Generally, flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May.

The CDC and clinicians recommend a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease (flu season continues through May). Flu vaccination can reduce illness and prevent flu-related hospitalizations.

Spread the word — not the flu.

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