Flu cases increase significantly across SC

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) – Influenza virus activity has risen to widespread status prompting a call for increased vaccination, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Thursday.

"Healthcare providers tell us that more of their patients have the flu," said Jerry Gibson, M.D. and director of DHEC's Bureau of Disease Control. "There is also a notable increase in hospitalizations. We're grateful for providers in our network who send samples to our lab, since testing tells us a lot about the types of flu that are spreading in the state. A lab test is the only way to make that identification."

Dr. Gibson said this year's flu season appears to be more typical than that of the pandemic virus that was seen during 2009 and 2010. That H1N1 flu virus caused a lot of serious illness among children and young adults. It resulted in lower-than-normal hospitalizations among the elderly.

DHEC's weekly S.C. Flu Watch report, which includes data from October 2010 through January 22, lists 7654 positive rapid flu tests from healthcare providers, 102 lab-confirmed cases, as well as 234 hospitalizations. The flu is considered "widespread" and on the rise in at least half of DHEC's eight health regions. S.C. Flu Watch also reports that eight South Carolinians have died from flu-related illness since October.

"Many people don't realize that the flu causes mild to severe respiratory illness and can be deadly," Dr. Gibson said. "We strongly encourage anyone six months or older to be vaccinated. Vaccination is especially important for the very young, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions that might put them at higher risk of serious illness. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your family. It is not too late to vaccinate."

Flu vaccinations are available in either shot or nasal spray from private providers and DHEC county public health departments. The average flu season peaks in February in this state.

More information about the flu can be found at: http://www.scdhec.gov/flu.

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