This flu season is hitting Spartanburg County residents hard, prompting coughs and sneezes while filling emergency rooms.
Dr. Thomas Boyd, an emergency room physician and medical director for emergency services at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, said the hospital has seen a recent spike in flu-patient hospitalizations, with almost 50 admitted during the week that ended Saturday and 20 the previous week.
And the worst could still lie ahead. Boyd said last year’s flu season peaked during the first week of January, and thus far, this season has been nearly twice as bad, with somewhat more severe symptoms. This year’s flu vaccine, too, has been slightly less effective.
“Typically the influenza vaccine is effective for about 60 percent of patients. This year we’re seeing it’s only effective for roughly 40 percent of patients nationally,” Boyd said.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reports the flu is widespread throughout the state with 18,630 labconfirmed cases reported and 12 deaths so far this season. Between 751 and 1,000 people in Spartanburg County were confirmed to have the flu, while the numbers were 1 to 50 in Cherokee and Union counties between Sept. 28 and Dec. 20, according to DHEC statistics.
“There have been fewer than four influenza associated deaths reported in Spartanburg County. No influenza associated deaths have been reported from Cherokee or Union counties,” Cassandra Harris, a DHEC spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
Harris said DHEC recommends that everyone 6 months and older be vaccinated against influenza.
“Although the virus has drifted from one strain in this year’s vaccine, being vaccinated is still the best method for preventing illness, serious illness, missed work, doctor’s visits, hospitalization and death,” she said.
Boyd also urges people to receive flu vaccinations, saying even though the peak of flu season is nearing, it continues through February. He said “highrisk populations,” including people younger than 2 and older than age 65, people with chronic respiratory problems or weakened immune systems, should visit a healthcare provider if they have flulike symptoms.
Boyd said flu sufferers who don’t fall in a highrisk category are probably better off staying home from work and away from others who are in highrisk groups. He suggests going to the hospital if flu-like symptoms include shortness of breath, vomiting that doesn’t allow one to keep down medications, or chronic medical conditions complicated by the flu.
Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System spokeswoman Jessica Pickens said the hospital has not imposed visiting restrictions. The hospital does recommend that pregnant women, people younger than 18, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and lung conditions not visit.
Mary Black Health System spokeswoman Connie LeGrand said that hospital does not currently have visitor restrictions either.
“We are monitoring overall health conditions in the community and will implement restrictions with the assistance of the health department if the need arises. We ask visitors to stay home if they are sick in order to avoid spreading germs to their loved ones or others who are hospitalized and at an increased risk of illness or complications. Patients with a scheduled procedure or medical need may continue to come to the hospital to receive care without concern,” LeGrand wrote in an email.
LeGrand said Mary Black, like other hospitals in the region, is seeing more flu-related visits to the emergency room.
Flu also is widespread in North Carolina.
St. Luke’s Hospital in Columbus, N.C., has restricted visitation due to an increase in confirmed cases.
The hospital has seen an increase in patients infected with the flu — 41 confirmed cases this month.
St. Luke’s has restricted visitation for people under 18 and people with flu-like symptoms, such as cough or fever.
“To protect our patients whose health is already compromised, we believe it’s best to ask others who don’t feel well to just stay home,” Megan Parker, infection preventionist at St. Luke’s Hospital, said in a written statement.