Flu activity is continuing to increase in the Palmetto state and while it's unknown when the flu season activity will peak, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control is encouraging South Carolinians to protect themselves against the flu.
"The Influenza A strain continues to be the most frequently reported this season in South Carolina and nationally," Dr. Tracy Foo, DHEC Immunization Medical Consultant, said. "When there are high levels of the H3N2 strain circulating, there tends to be more severe illness and a higher number of deaths."
As of Jan. 20, 46 people in South Carolina have died. Individuals over 65 have the highest hospitalization rate and number of deaths. About one-third of all laboratory-confirmed influenza cases reported this season are in older adults.
The best protection against the illness is the flu shot. Anyone 6 months of age or older should get the shot if they haven't already had one this season.
It takes about two weeks for the body to build up protection after getting the flu vaccine, so the sooner you get the vaccine, the better. Remember, the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. Flu vaccines contain virus strains that are not active and cannot produce disease.
It is important to remember that anyone can get sick from the flu. Even healthy people can develop complications, which include pneumonia, serious illness requiring hospitalization and even death. Some people are at higher risk for complications from the flu, especially infants and young children, older adults, pregnant women, and anyone with a chronic medical condition, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
Dr. Foo said, "Because we are seeing more severe flu activity this season, it is especially important for these high-risk individuals to get vaccinated if they haven't already."
Vaccine effectiveness depends on how well the virus strains in the vaccine match the strains that are circulating and other factors like the individual's age and their immune system's response. The H3N2 virus strain is in this year's vaccine and is similar to the strain that is being seen in the U.S. this season.
"We do not yet know how effective this year's vaccine will be, but the message is still the same-get vaccinated now," Dr. Foo said.
The flu vaccine is available from providers statewide. In addition to DHEC, many local providers, including doctors' offices, pharmacies, college health centers, schools, and workplaces, are still offering flu vaccines. Flu vaccines are offered at DHEC Health Department clinics by appointment. Call 1-800-868-0404 to make an appointment or go to scdhec.gov/flu/FluClinics to find the location closest to you. For more information about the flu, visit scdhec.gov/flu.