While flu activity remains high in South Carolina, there are indications this season’s outbreak is on the downswing.
Midlands school officials, braced for a possible spike in illness-related absences as students returned from the holiday break, reported normal levels of activity.
Absences “are not out the normal range for this time of year,” Lexington 2 spokeswoman Kay Joseph said, a sentiment reflected in other Lexington County schools.
Richland 2 and Kershaw County schools also are reporting declines in the number of students out sick in this first week of January after a flurry of absences before the holiday break.
The number of positive rapid tests for flu statewide dropped in the most recent reporting week by 38 percent. But the number of flu-related deaths, which often lags behind the other statistics, jumped to 14 last week, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Even if this peak has passed, that peak was so high that lots of people still are getting very sick. South Carolina’s flu status remains widespread, according DHEC. And based on past years, the flu season can have short downswings before a second peak.
The drops last week represent “just one data point, we don’t know if we’ll continue to see” a reduction in flu cases, said Dr. Matthew Crist, an infectious disease specialist with the agency.
The best ways to slow the spread of the influenza virus are to wash hands frequently and thoroughly, cover your mouth when you cough, stay home when you’re sick and get vaccinated – even if this year’s vaccine is less effective than some years.
The number of positive rapid tests dropped from 9,666 in the week ending Dec. 31 to 6,172 the week ending Jan. 7. That’s a positive trend, but those 6,172 people still faced a week to 10 days of fever, body aches, sore throat and cough. And many passed the virus along to others.
The number of deaths in S.C. totals 38 this season. At this stage last season, the state had 20 deaths, but that season peaked in late January and early February. By the end of last season, 78 people had died from flu-related causes, according to DHEC
The number of flu-related deaths has varied remarkably over the previous five full seasons – 49 in 2009-10, 20 in 2010-11, one in 2011-12, 46 in 2012-13 and 78 in 2013-14.
The number of flu-related hospitalizations remained high in early January, though it dropped slightly in the most recent week, from 486 to 472. The flu-related hospitalizations in the previous five full seasons follow a trajectory similar to deaths, with a high of 1,941 last season.
Another indication of how busy this season already has been, DHEC has 120 outbreak investigations in long-term care facilities and schools, according to Crist.