S.C. swine-flu status less severe than other states'

10/31/2009 12:00 AM

10/30/2009 11:06 PM

South Carolina is one of only two states where the swine flu outbreak isn't considered widespread, but that doesn't mean we're in much better shape than the other states.

The virus outbreak in South Carolina is considered regional, the next-to-worst classification, and the numbers of flulike illnesses in some areas of the state are still above the national average. (Hawaii is the other state in regional status, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

State-by-state numbers used in the national H1N1 report don't provide an apples-to-apples comparison. South Carolina takes a somewhat conservative approach to interpreting data from doctors' practices and emergency rooms, said state epidemiologist Dr. Jerry Gibson.

The federal classification is based on reports from eight health regions in South Carolina. Fewer people are showing up at doctors' offices with flulike symptoms in some areas, especially the Upstate and Savannah River regions. That outweighs the high incidence of flulike symptoms in the Midlands and along the coast.

With a few tweaks in the way the state is divided into regions, South Carolina could be back in the widespread category. Even without those tweaks, a few more people showing up at doctors' offices rather than staying home with flu symptoms could change the state's status.

In Richland County, 6.32 percent of patients at medical providers participating in the DHEC survey had flulike illnesses in the most recent week reported. That's close to the national average.

The numbers were higher in Lexington (9.63 percent), Charleston (9.05) and Georgetown (10.78) counties but lower in many other areas of the state.

The number of flu-related hospitalizations in the state increased in the most recent reporting week, from 87 for the week ending Oct. 17 to 95 in the week ending Oct. 24. The number of flu-related deaths (four) in the state during the most recent week ties for the second-deadliest week since Sept. 1.

Gibson noted that while South Carolina's statistics might be better than those for other states, the incidence of flu everywhere in the country is extraordinary for this time of year. Usually, the seasonal flu doesn't start showing up here until late December.

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