Flu symptoms

Symptoms of influenza include:100-degree or higher fever or feeling feverishCough and/or sore throatRunny or stuffy noseHeadache and/or body achesChillsFatigueNausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most common in children)When to seek emergency medical attention:Difficulty breathing or shortness of breathPurple or blue discoloration of the lipsPain or pressure in the chest or abdomenSudden dizzinessConfusionSevere or persistent vomitingSeizuresFlu-like symptoms improve but return with fever and worse coughSource: Flu.gov

The percentage of patients at a doctor’s office who were treated for influenza-like symptoms was much higher in the coastal region than in the Midlands and Upstate, according to the latest state flu report.

The report, for the week ending Dec. 15, says 10 percent of visits to clinics in eastern South Carolina were for flu-like illness compared with 2.5 percent in both the Upstate and Midlands. “Baseline,” or low levels of patients with flu-like symptoms, is described as 2 percent.

The statewide percentage of emergency room visits with flu symptoms was 11 percent.

State officials contacted Monday said new information on flu in South Carolina would be posted on Wednesday. So far, 13 deaths in South Carolina have been blamed on complications from the flu, including one child.

Dr. Helen Bertrand, a pediatrician with Roper St. Francis Healthcare, said last year’s flu season was mild but this year is atypical because it is happening earlier.

“We almost never get it before Christmas. This year is quite different,” Bertrand said.

She strongly advocates the flu vaccine except for infants under 6 months old. In that case, adults around the baby should receive the immunization, she said.

“We have seen a considerable amount of the flu that we don’t typically see. It could be a long winter with a lot of flu,” she said.

Bertrand said schools are offering the vaccine in addition to pediatricians and public health clinics.

“It is for the most part effective. The flu vaccine this year looks pretty good,” she said.

Influenza-like illness in the Palmetto State typically peaks in February, which makes the early rise in flu cases unusual, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The five emergency departments operated by Roper St. Francis Healthcare are seeing much higher than average rates of ill patients who test positive for influenza, said Wanda Brockmeyer, director of emergency services.

“Our after-hours care offices have been packed,” Brockmeyer said.

Since Sept. 30, more than 8,000 people have tested positive for the flu statewide, according to DHEC.

In addition to getting a flu vaccine, preventive measures include avoiding touching public surfaces like elevator buttons, handrails and door knobs by using sleeves or an elbow when possible. Wash hands for a minimum of 15 seconds with hot soapy water, including between fingers and under nails. Anti-bacterial gels must be rubbed in for a minimum of 15 seconds, Brockmeyer said.

As of Dec. 15, some 308 people in the state were hospitalized for flu confirmed by lab testing.

A Barnwell County youngster was the state’s first flu-related death in late November. No flu deaths have been reported in the Charleston area.

DHEC has described flu in South Carolina as widespread.

Nationwide, there have been 1,522 lab-confirmed, flu-related hospitalizations since Oct. 1, an increase of 509 hospitalizations from the previous week. That translates to a rate of 5.5 hospitalizations per 100,000 population. Hospitalization rates are highest among people 65 and older, which is typical for influenza season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

The figures are as of the week ending Dec. 22.

Nationwide, 8 influenza-related child deaths were reported for the week ending Dec. 22, the latest available figures. So far, 16 children have died of complications from the flu since Sept. 30, the CDC reported.

Four of the child flu-related deaths reported so far have occurred in the Southeast. Pediatric influenza-related fatalities reported to CDC from 2003 to 2010 range from 46 to 153 annually.

Each year, an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of flu-related sickness. Children with other serious illnesses, such as asthma, neurologic disorders and weakened immune systems, are at greatest risk of flu complications. But about 40 percent of children hospitalized because of the flu had no underlying medical problem, the CDC said.