Three cases of the flu have been reported in South Carolina at the start of the official influenza season, according to the S.C. Department of Environmental Health and Control.
DHEC is promoting early vaccination as the best defense against contracting the flu this year.
“Everybody is at risk of getting the flu because you don’t know who’s going to sneeze on you,” said Linda Bell, interim state epidemiologist. “Even if you’re young and healthy it doesn’t mean you couldn’t get the flu or have complications from the flu.”
Influenza is a viral disease that causes respiratory infections. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, dry cough, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, sore throat and nasal congestion, according to DHEC.
Right now, Bell said she has no way to predict if this season will be worse than the last, because “there aren’t any good disease models that help us to predict that.”
Last flu season was more mild compared to previous years, Bell said.
“The flu can result in a serious infection,” Bell said. “People can develop complications of pneumonia, some can even die from the flu and we consider those preventable deaths. Even for people who don’t have the more serious complications, the flu is a pretty serious illness that includes a high fever and body aches that can last a week or more. Most anyone would want to avoid that if possible.”
Generally, children between 6 months and 5-years-old and anyone over 50 is at a higher risk. Health factors like immunosuppression, chronic medical conditions and pregnancy along with residency like living in a nursing facility can also increase susceptibility.
More people seem to be getting vaccinated, Bell said, but some, including people at high risk still aren’t.
“The reasons vary,” she said. “Some people we need to do a better job at educating.”
Other reasons include misconceptions such as the vaccine will make you ill. Bell said that’s not how it works, but soreness from the shot can be expected.
“The few minutes of the discomfort of a needle, if you weigh that against a weeklong illness at best and the possibility of something that could be worse, doesn’t really compare,” Bell said.
Bell said people also sometimes believe it’s not available or costs too much.
That stems from the past when flu shots were available by scheduled appointments with physicians, she said. But now it’s readily available in a variety of places. Walk-ins are accepted at most pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens and Target.
All three cases confirmed in the Palmetto State so far have been the H1N1 strain. None have been reported in Horry County or Georgetown County.
Right now, the activity level of the flu is considered sporadic, according to DHEC’s “Flu Watch,” which Bell said basically means there is lab confirmation of a small number of cases in a small number of places.
That definition is determined by healthcare providers across the state reporting the number of patients seen for influenza-like-illnesses and the number of confirmed flu cases. The activity level in South Carolina so far this year is 0.31 percent of patients with flu-like illnesses compared to 0.37 percent this time last year.
DHEC monitors influenza activity throughout the season using the information reported by physicians.
The next activity levels are local and regional, where a particular area may have increased numbers of cases or an outbreak in an institution like a nursing home or school.
Widespread is the highest activity level and means multiple cases have been confirmed by laboratory testing in four of the eight regions in the state.
DHEC clinics provide the flu shot for $25. But, next year, shots at those clinics will only be open to the uninsured or underinsured. Jim Beasley, spokesman for DHEC, said private health care already provides the majority of flu shots.
He said this year is a transitional year and anyone going to a DHEC clinic should be notified of the changes coming next season.
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.