RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — State health officials say the death toll from the flu in North Carolina has reached 200, putting it within reach of the record 218 deaths reported twice in the last three years.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that 27 people died from the flu in the week that ended Feb. 17. The death toll for the 2017-18 flu season includes eight who died in previous weeks and were ultimately determined to have had the flu.

According to the latest statistics, 26 of the flu victims were ages 65 and older. There were five between 50 and 64, and two each in the 18-to- 24 and 25-to-49 age groups. The deaths in the 18-to-24 group were the first in that category this season.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious-diseases expert with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said that "deaths due to influenza are often not due to the virus itself but due to secondary bacterial infections, particularly of the lung.

"Thus, deaths due to influenza may peak after the peak of person-to-person transmission in a community," Ohl said.

There were 1,297 confirmed flu cases last week among the state's seven largest hospital networks, representing 13.6 percent of the 9,532 confirmed flu cases those hospitals have seen this season. For the week ending Feb. 3, there were 1,543 confirmed flu cases.

"For the first time this influenza season, Novant Health has seen a decline in the number of positive influenza tests in our hospitals and clinics," said Dr. David Priest, lead clinician with the system's infectious disease specialists. "However, influenza activity remains widespread, and we expect the influenza season to last several more weeks."

Cone Health said it experienced a decrease in emergency-department patients with flu symptoms last week for the first time since Christmas.