Overall, 17 people have died from flu since the beginning of October. The next report of flu statistics will be released Thursday.
Dr. Zack Moore, epidemiologist at the N.C. Division of Public Health, said the flu is a seasonal epidemic but began earlier for the third year in a row. He said his office saw high levels of flu activity in December and a peak the last two years around Christmas.
He said he hopes his department saw this year’s peak at the end of December, but students should still get the vaccine because there could still be several months of flu activity.
The vaccine is not fully effective against the main strain of flu this year, the H3N2 virus, said Dr. Timothy Daaleman, vice chairman of the UNC department of family medicine.
“The vaccine this year has been 60 to 70 percent effective, which is not outstanding,” he said.
Moore said about two-thirds of this flu virus isn’t well matched to the vaccine because it had small genetic changes over time, called drift.
“Between the time when the strains for the vaccine were selected back in February, and the time when flu season started, the H3N2 virus had drifted,” he said. “We will not know until much later if the vaccine provides no protection against those strains, or some protection against these strains.”
It does protect against other strains of flu that could appear later on, Moore said.