Flu cases across South Carolina ‘exquisitely low’ as COVID-19 spreads

VIDEO: Flu cases across South Carolina ‘exquisitely low’ as COVID-19 spreads

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina’s Department of Health confirmed one new case of influenza in the last week, a dramatic drop from the more than 300 reported during the same time period in 2019.

“The numbers are exquisitely low,” Dr. Kenneth Perry, who works in the emergency department at Trident Medical Center, said. “By this time, I’m normally seeing a few a shift. I don’t think I’ve seen one this season yet.”

During the week around Christmas in 2019, the state reported its seventh consecutive week at widespread flu activity with the total case number already surpassing 1,000. Last week, the state reported a decrease with only about 60 cases confirmed so far this season.

Dr. Michael Schmidt, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, said he’s not surprised about the below average flu activity.

“The flu numbers are down for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One, we’ve been listening to DHEC here in South Carolina. We’ve been wearing masks, we’ve been keeping physically distant, and finally, we’ve been heeding their advice and washing our hands. After all, that is how influenza spreads.”

At this point in the 2019-2020 season, the state confirmed 605 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 15 deaths, according to DHEC’s Flu Watch Report. So far this season, there have been 65 confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations and four deaths.

Perry said the low numbers might be because of COVID itself, not necessarily just because of safety measures taken.

“There’s some virologists that will say when you have one virus that’s trying to become pandemic, meaning it’s trying to infect a certain host, it preferentially take over all of the machinery of that host,” Perry said. “Therefore, making it much more difficult for another virus like the flu to take over.”

Both he and Schmidt agreed that it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

“If you haven’t gotten your flu shot, I would encourage you to go out and get it, because influenza traditionally spikes in South Carolina after the Christmas holiday,” Schmidt said.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control reported that flu activity is “unusually low at this time” but may increase in the coming months. More than 192 million doses of the flu vaccine have already been distributed.

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