Statewide surge in flu cases keeping local schools, medical facilities on alert

Area schools and medical facilities are holding their collective breath as the flu continues to make its march across the Palmetto State.

Nearly 14,000 cases of the flu have been reported in South Carolina since October. The flu has hospitalized approximately 1,762 people — including 470 in the past week.

Seventeen deaths have been attributed to the illness.

“The Influenza A strain continues to be the most frequently reported this season in South Carolina and nationally, “ said Dr. Tracy Foo, DHEC immunization medical consultant. “When there are high levels of the H3N2 strain circulating, there tends to be more severe illness and a higher number of deaths.”

Recent figures show 795 cases have been diagnosed in Horry County this flu season, up a mere seven from the previous week. Approximately 214 cases have been reported in Georgetown County.

Greenville County continues to lead the state with nearly 2,300 reported cases of the flu, with Richland, Spartanburg and Charleston counties lagging not far behind.

A contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, the flu is marked by a sudden onset of fever, cough, headache or muscle aches, tiredness, sore throat and nasal congestion.

Those believed to have the highest risk of acquiring the illness include young children, pregnant women and those aged 65 and older. Also lumped into that category are those with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart or lung disease.

Schools tend to be ground zero for the transmission of certain illnesses and diseases. With that in mind, Horry County Schools is not taking any risks.

“Our teachers and custodial staffs wipe down frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, water fountains, bathrooms, etc.,” said Horry County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier. “We also encourage parents to keep their children home if they are sick. Also, children must be fever-free, without medication for 24 hours before they can return to school.”

Though without numbers for a true case-by-case analysis, Bourcier said county schools have yet to see anything out of the ordinary in terms of absences due to the flu.

As some health facilities nationwide struggle to find beds, intravenous fluids and medication for those affected with the illness, those at Grand Strand Health claim flu season has proven rather ordinary.

“While the flu is said to be more severe this season, less than 10 percent of our (emergency room) visits since December have been flu-related,” said Grand Strand Health chief medical officer Dr. Andrew Shwartz. “We have had approximately 225 visits since December for flu or flu-related symptoms. We saw a great deal of these visits earlier in the season compared to last year, but overall this number is around the same as in 2017 at this time.”

Facilities associated with Grand Strand Health and Tidelands Health have yet to indicate plans to restrict visitors due to the flu.

Though not ‘a 100 percent deterrent’ against the flu, the best way to prevent it is to get vaccinated, according to DHEC and the Centers for Disease Control.

“Getting vaccinated annually is the No. 1 way to combat this contagious disease that can lead to hospitalization — and even death,” a prepared statement read. “DHEC and the CDC recommend that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine, which can reduce illnesses, doctor’s visits and missed work and school due to the flu.”

Those seeking flu shots can do so by setting up an appointment at the Myrtle Beach Health Department or the Horry County Health Department by calling 1-800-868-0404.

Flu vaccines are also being offered at doctor’s offices, clinics and pharmacies.

There are other ways those seeking to avoid the flu can be proactive. Among them include:

▪  Avoiding contact with sick people;

▪  If sick, limit contact with others;

▪  If experiencing flu symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, with the exception of getting medical care or other necessities;

▪  Cover your nose and mouse with a tissue when coughing or sneezing;

▪  Wash your hands often with soap and water;

▪  Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth;

▪  Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs such as the flu.

Joe L. Hughes II: 843-444-1702, @JoeLHughesII