Flu virus continues to spread across South Carolina

Flu activity is continuing to increase in the Palmetto state and while it’s unknown when the flu season activity will peak, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is encouraging South Carolinians to protect themselves against the flu.

According to DHEC statistics as of Jan. 20, more than 75 people in Barnwell County and up to 25 people in Allendale County had been diagnosed with the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.”

Symptoms usually start suddenly, not gradually, and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in young children than in adults. It is important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever, according to the CDC.

The CDC reports that “most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”

“You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Although people with the flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after their illness begins, some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others with flu viruses for an even longer time,” states the CDC.

“The Influenza A strain continues to be the most frequently reported this season in South Carolina and nationally,” said Dr. Tracy Foo, DHEC Immunization Medical Consultant. “When there are high levels of the H3N2 strain circulating, there tends to be more severe illness and a higher number of deaths.”

As of Jan. 20, 46 people in South Carolina have died, according to a DHEC press release. “Individuals over 65 have the highest hospitalization rate and number of deaths. About one-third of all laboratory-confirmed influenza cases reported this season are in older adults.”

Local schools have been closely monitoring the situation, but have not seen the large amount of flu-related absences as some school districts across the country. However, they have implemented additional disinfecting practices, according to the superintendents.

The best protection against the illness is the flu shot, according to DHEC. Anyone 6 months of age or older should get the shot if they haven’t already had one this season.

“It takes about two weeks for the body to build up protection after getting the flu vaccine, so the sooner you get the vaccine, the better. Remember, the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. Flu vaccines contain virus strains that are not active and cannot produce disease,” stated the release.

“It is important to remember that anyone can get sick from the flu. Even healthy people can develop complications, which include pneumonia, serious illness requiring hospitalization and even death.”

“Some people are at higher risk for complications from the flu, especially infants and young children, older adults, pregnant women, and anyone with a chronic medical condition, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.”

Dr. Foo said, “Because we are seeing more severe flu activity this season, it is especially important for these high-risk individuals to get vaccinated if they haven’t already.”

Vaccine effectiveness depends on how well the virus strains in the vaccine match the strains that are circulating and other factors like the individual’s age and their immune system’s response. The H3N2 virus strain is in this year’s vaccine and is similar to the strain that is being seen in the U.S. this season.

“We do not yet know how effective this year’s vaccine will be, but the message is still the same - get vaccinated now,” Dr. Foo said.

The flu vaccine is available from providers statewide. In addition to DHEC, many local providers, including doctors’ offices, pharmacies, college health centers, schools, and workplaces, are still offering flu vaccines. Flu vaccines are offered at DHEC Health Department clinics by appointment. Call 1-800-868-0404 to make an appointment or go to scdhec.gov/flu/FluClinics to find the location closest to you.

For more information about the flu, visit scdhec.gov/flu.