CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Frank Phelan spent his New Year's Eve holiday – sick.
"When something like that happens, you think, 'well, maybe it's the flu' and you're really going to get socked, but I just kept feeling rotten," he says.
Phelan is just one of a large number of people feeling ill with flu-like symptoms.
In the latest "Flu Watch" report released Wednesday by the State Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the percentage of medical visits of patients with flu-like symptoms has increased almost three percent. The report reflects data collected in the week ending December 22nd, 2012.
There has also been three additional deaths reported, for a total of 13 statewide deaths this season.
"It seems to be hitting stronger, hitting harder, people are sicker, the symptoms seem to be worse," Henry Spradlin, PA-C says.
Spradlin, the operator of the Health First location in West Ashley, says this flu season has been the worst he has seen in years.
"The flu season this year has actually started early," he says. "We don't normally start seeing it until January, but this year, it started sometime in November."
The illness seems to be hitting coastal South Carolina areas especially hard. In coastal counties, flu-like sicknesses accounted for nine percent of all healthcare provider visits. The state average was six percent.
Spradlin says it could be because coastal communities are more populated and the flu is a communicable disease and is easily spread from person to person.
A spokesman for DHEC says the variance could stem from different testing protocols.
"Some physicians are more likely to request additional tests --- either lab or rapid flu tests --- to determine a diagnosis, whereas others might rely more heavily on observation and discussion with patients to make a diagnosis," Spokesman Jim Beasley said by e-mail.
Residents are still advised to get a flu vaccine this season, as they take roughly two weeks to build immunity in the body.