Five cases of flu have been confirmed in the Midlands in the past few weeks, prompting state health officials to declare flu season has begun.
For record-keeping purposes, flu years start in late June because the season typically peaks in the winter. In terms of severity of outbreak, December of one calendar year is similar to January the next year. The new flu vaccine, designed to combat the winter outbreak, comes out in August each year.
Local physicians and pharmacies have been advertising flu vaccines for weeks in the Midlands.
“Vaccination remains the single best way to prevent the spread of flu,” said Dr. Linda Bell, the state epidemiologist with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. “We recommend the flu vaccine for everyone six months of age or older.
“Flu season typically peaks in February in South Carolina. But you should get vaccinated as soon as possible to give your body time to strengthen its natural resistance to the virus before you are exposed. We strongly recommend flu vaccine for anyone who wants to reduce their risk from flu and its complications.”
Flu season never really ended this year like it normally does in the summer. DHEC reported three lab confirmed flu cases and one flu-related hospitalization in the state in July and August.
With 1,720 flu-related hospitalizations and 46 flu-related deaths, the flu season ending June 29 was one of the worst in recent memory. It compared to the unusual 2009-2010 swine flu season, which hit hard in early summer and ended with 1,091 flu-related hospitalizations and 49 flu-related deaths. The 2012-2013 season came on the heels of a very mild season, with only 114 hospitalizations and one death in 2011-2012.
Bell reminded South Carolinians that the best ways to slow the spread of flu are getting vaccinated, covering your cough with a tissue or your sleeve, washing hands thoroughly and often and staying home when sick. Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise also help.
Flu symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, dry cough, headache, muscle aches and lethargy. Sore throat and nasal congestion also often are associated with flu.
DHEC provides flu shots at county health facilities throughout the state. But the agency aims to focus on the uninsured, under-insured and those who cannot receive a flu vaccine anywhere else. If you have health insurance, DHEC officials ask that you get your vaccine at physician offices or pharmacies.
Past flu seasons
Here are statistics from the past four flu seasons, which end in late June.
2012-13: 1,720 hospitalizations, 46 deaths
2011-12: 114 hospitalizations, 1 death
2010-11: 996 hospitalizations, 20 deaths
2009-10: 1,091 hospitalizations, 49 deaths