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Flu Cases Increasing in South Carolina

The number of reported flu cases in South Carolina is increasing this week. And to date, 39 people have died from the flu in our state this season.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Symptoms may include a sudden onset of fever, cough, headache or muscle aches, tiredness, sore throat and nasal congestion or stuffiness. The flu is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death.

In this WIS-TV interview, Dr. Jared Stone, ER physician at Lexington Medical Center, talked about complications the flu can cause – and how to tell the difference between the flu and a cold.

Symptoms of the flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (tiredness). Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can tell if a person has the flu.

Most people who get flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications that can include pneumonia, sinus and ear infections, inflammation of the heart or brain, and organ failure. Flu also can make chronic medical problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have flu, and people with chronic heart disease may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu.

Importantly, it’s not too late to get a flu shot. The flu vaccine is recommended for all people at least six months of age and especially for people at higher risk including the older population and people with chronic conditions.

Debunking Flu Vaccine Myths

Now is the right time to get a flu shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sporadic flu activity is already being reported in 42 states across the nation, including South Carolina. The flu vaccine is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from the flu. But a lot of people choose not to get it, saying it will give them flu symptoms or that it’s not worth it because doesn’t always work against all strains of the flu. In this WLTX news report, Dr. Joshua Prince of Lexington Family Medicine, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, debunks these flu vaccine myths.

One common rumor is that the flu vaccine will give you the flu. Dr. Prince says that’s absolutely false. The flu vaccine provides your immune system with a process to build antibodies that will either prevent you from getting the flu, or help you fight the flu.

Some people may have mild reactions to the flu shot including body aches lasting one or two days. Dr. Prince says that’s much better than getting the flu. The flu will invade your nasal passages, throat and lungs – and the body aches and fever can be devastating, leading to hospitalization or even death.

Another reason some people skip the flu shot is that it’s not always effective against all strains. For example, last year’s flu shot was only about 30% effective. Dr. Prince says the vaccine is still worth it. While a number of influenza viruses do exist, we have the best flu vaccine that experts can make every year. A lot of research goes into preparing the vaccine each year and we should take advantage of it. The effectiveness does vary from year to year, but even if it’s only 10 to 30 percent effective, that’s better than nothing.

Flu Season Update

We continue to have a higher than average flu season – and there’s no sign that it’s letting up.

In December 2017, Lexington Medical Center’s Emergency department and five Urgent Care centers in Lexington County diagnosed 556 cases of the flu. From January 1 to 18, hospital clinicians diagnosed 1079 cases – exceeding the total for December within just the first half of January.

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, the prominent strain is H3N2, which clinicians call one of the more severe strains of the flu. The biggest uptick in cases seemed to be during the second week of January.

Health experts emphasize that it’s not too late to get a flu shot. While there has been some concern that the vaccine is not effective this year, this year’s flu shot contains protection for a strain similar to H3N2. In fact, clinicians estimate the vaccine is about 35% effective, which is higher than previously thought. And it’s still more effective than not getting the vaccine.

Clinicians also point out that rapid flu swab tests are not 100% accurate. It’s possible to receive a false negative. So, they advise treating your illness like the flu even with a negative flu test. That’s especially true for the elderly, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, or who have chronic respiratory problems.

To prevent spreading the flu:
~Wash your hands.
~Don’t touch your face, nose, mouth or eyes.
~Stay home if you’re sick.
~Wipe down surfaces including countertops and door knobs.

Throughout the year, Lexington Medical Center asks that people who are not feeling well do not visit the hospital. If a patient comes to our Emergency department, Urgent Care facilities or physician practices with flu-like symptoms, we ask them to wear a mask. We also have hand sanitizer throughout our offices.