Officials urge South Carolinians to get vaccines as flu season is underway, takes lives of 6 already this year

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Flu season in South Carolina has started and state health officials say it’s already affecting South Carolinians.

DHEC reports 6 flu associated deaths in South Carolina this year. Two people (ages 65+) died in the Low Country and one pediatric patient (age 0-4) died in the Pee Dee.

Officials are urging the public to start getting their flu vaccines.

WIS spoke with Teresa Foo, DHEC’s medical consultant for immunizations, about how scientists determine what flu strain to cover every year.

“Most flu vaccines cover 4 different strains of the flu virus. Some cover 3 strains, but what they do is a bunch of scientists meet with the world health organization the WHO, CDC and they talk about what strains were seen in other parts of the world. The southern hemisphere has its flu season before ours, we kind of look and see what flu strains were seen there. We look at what was seen last year and that’s how they determine what strains should be in the vaccine for this year,” Foo said.

DHEC officials say flu season last year affected people at historical levels. South Carolina saw the most flu associated deaths and flu-related patients since DHEC flu record keeping began, according to officials. The DHEC end of year report from the 2017-2018 flu season lists a reported total of 4,489 hospitalizations and 289 deaths.

Nationally, those numbers hit an estimated 80,000 flu associated deaths according to the director of the CDC.

The question: why did 2017’s flu season cause so many problems and could we see the same this year?

Foo says those answers will take time and reported data to come in as flu season moves forward. Foo says the season was bad, not necessarily due to the effectiveness of the vaccine, but the type of flu strain.

“It was because of the strain of flu that we were seeing and that strain, the H3N2 strain, is one that tends to be more severe- especially in the older adults, younger children and just in general,” Foo said.

She also cautions against people thinking that a flu shot will make them immune to the flu. It will however offer the best protection possible, and if you do get the flu, officials say it will make your symptoms less severe.

“The flu vaccine is safe. It has been given for many years, millions and millions of doses throughout the country and throughout the world so it’s a safe vaccine. For pregnant women- it’s actually recommended for pregnant women because it protects not only the mom, but it also protects the baby. So the baby is actually born with some protection from the vaccine from the mom,” Foo said.

She recommends everyone 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine every year. "There are certain groups at high risk from serious complications from the flu, so that includes: elderly so especially those 65 and older, infants and young children under 5, pregnant women and anyone who has any kind of chronic health conditions,” Foo said.

Foo says flu season typically runs from October to May with a peak of flu cases season in January to February.

Foo says it takes about 2 weeks after the flu vaccine for the protection to build up in your body.

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