SC remains hot spot for the flu, though this week offers reason for cautious optimism

Todd Nelson, right, gets a flu shot from nurse Nicole Simpson at the Salvation Army in Atlanta on Wednesday.
Todd Nelson, right, gets a flu shot from nurse Nicole Simpson at the Salvation Army in Atlanta on Wednesday. AP

It remains a nuisance, but the flu’s momentum locally and statewide waned a bit over the past week, according to S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reports.

More than 18,700 new flu cases were confirmed statewide, down by about 7.5 percent compared to last week’s total. Of those, 1,270 were reported in Horry County, while another 482 were confirmed in Georgetown County.

Greenville County continues to be the hardest hit in the state’s flu epidemic, with 3,316 cases reported over the past week. Activity also remains rather high in Charleston, Lexington, Richland and Spartanburg counties, with DHEC confirming 1,000 cases or more for each this past week.

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.

Of all strains prevalent this season, almost 77 percent of all cases statewide have been attributed to the H3N2 strain.

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

Sixteen deaths were attributed to the illness this week, pushing the total for this flu season to 106. DHEC reported 2,894 people have been hospitalized.

This flu season has proven particularly tough on South Carolina’s senior citizens, those aged 65 and older account for almost 60 percent of all hospitalizations as a result of the illness. The age group also is responsible for 73 percent of flu deaths statewide.

Young children, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart or lung disease are also at a higher risk from the flu.

Health officials continue to stress the best deterrent for catching the flu remains getting vaccinated. However, concerns about this year’s shot and its effectiveness have steered some from getting one.

“Vaccine effectiveness depends on how well the virus strains in the vaccine match the strains that are circulating and other factors like the individual’s age and their immune system’s response,” Kelly said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain genetic changes in the strain may have a little to do with that.

“While all influenza viruses undergo frequent genetic changes, the changes that have occurred in influenza A (H3N2) viruses have more frequently resulted in differences between the virus components of the flu vaccine and circulating influenza viruses,” the CDC statement said. “That means that between the time when the composition of the flu vaccine is recommended and the flu vaccine is delivered, H3N2 viruses are more likely than H1N1 or influenza B viruses to have changed in ways that could impact how well the flu vaccine works.”

The nation’s health agency also cites certain changes during the vaccine production process, which commonly sees viruses incubated in eggs for several days in an effort for them to replicate.

“While all influenza viruses undergo changes when they are grown in eggs, changes in (H3N2) viruses tend to be more likely to result in antigenic changes compared with changes in other influenza viruses,” the CDC said. “These so called “egg-adapted changes” are present in vaccine viruses recommended for use in vaccine production and may reduce their potential effectiveness against circulating influenza viruses.”

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.