New flu cases balloon in Horry as medical facilities seek to stop its spread

Ana Martinez, a medical assistant at the Sea Mar Community Health Center, gives a patient a flu shot in Seattle.
Ana Martinez, a medical assistant at the Sea Mar Community Health Center, gives a patient a flu shot in Seattle. AP

Headed into the final week of January, Horry County had been spared the worst of flu season.

It took only a span of seven days for all of that to change.

A recent S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control report revealed 701 new flu cases in Horry County were diagnosed within the past week. Prior to that, approximately 795 cases were diagnosed since the start of flu season in October.

The only places in which the illness is more common in South Carolina is Greenville and Richland counties, each of them well over 2,000 cases diagnosed this flu season.

The local surge mirrors what is occurring statewide as well. Already widespread in the Palmetto State, almost 18,000 new cases were diagnosed last week – a 25 percent increase from the previous seven-day stretch.

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.

The H3N2 strain is responsible for nearly 80 percent of all cases.

Currently, the Grand Strand Health and Tidelands Health hospital systems are encouraging children 12 and under along with those with flu-like symptoms to avoid visiting loved ones being treated at local medical facilities.

“We believe strongly that family, friends and loved ones are an important part of the healing process for our patients,” said Tidelands Health senior communications strategist Carl Lundquist. “To that end, we have not implemented flu-related visitor restrictions, but we do ask people to use common sense when deciding whether to visit family and friends in our hospitals.”

Of greater concern is the number of deaths attributed to the flu. The state health agency reported the number of deaths this season is now up to 84, with 38 of them coming in the past week.

The number of hospitalizations as a result of the flu also rose significantly, with approximately 603 people receiving extensive medical care this past week.

A large share of those are attributed to patients ages and 65 and older, part of a demographic believed by health officials as being “most vulnerable” to acquire the illness along with young children, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart or lung disease. According to figures from DHEC, the age group accounts for 1,437 flu-related hospital stays – almost 61 percent of the state’s total – with 62 of them succumbing to the ailment.

Some cases are being diagnosed in long-term health care settings, such as nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks health professionals to place ill residents in a private room or with those suspected of also having the flu and wear a facemask during their time in the room of sick individuals. Additionally, the nation’s health authority mandates they regularly wear gloves and gowns in an effort to best stop the illness’ spread.

“These precautions are part of the overall infection control strategy to protect against influenza in health care settings and should be used along with other infection control measures,” CDC said, “such as isolation or cohorting of ill residents, screening employees and visitors for illness, furloughing ill health care personnel and discouraging ill visitors from entering the facility.”

Health officials stress that the best way to avoid catching the flu is to get vaccinated.

“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 CDC recommend that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine, which can reduce flu 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 Horry County Health Department by calling 1-800-868-0404.

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

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

Guidelines to avoid the flu

▪  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.