An elderly James Island woman who tested positive for the flu died a day after complaining of not feeling well, the Charleston County Coroner’s Office reported.

Help prevent the flu

Get a flu vaccine each year.Wash your hands often with soap and water. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash.Stay home if you are sick until you have been symptom-free without taking fever-reducing medicine for 24 hours.Try to avoid close contact with sick people.Eat a healthy diet, exercise and get plenty of rest.Source: DHEC

The first reported local death from the flu happened Sunday as the fatality toll continued to climb in an influenza season that is hitting early and hard.

Treating the flu

There is no instant cure for the flu. But there are things you can do to help yourself feel better: Anti-viral medicines given within 48 hours of the start of symptoms, plenty of rest, drinking a lot of liquids, taking aspirin or acetaminophen to reduce fever and aches. Children with the flu should not take aspirin.For more information, go to DHEC

The number of flu cases are soaring over last year’s totals as well, particularly in the coastal region.

More than 32,000 people in South Carolina have tested positive for influenza from Sept. 30 to Dec. 29, using a diagnostic tool called the rapid flu test that provides results in 15 minutes. In comparison, fewer than 300 state residents tested positive at the same time last year, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

For the week ending Saturday, 767 people in Charleston County tested positive using the rapid flu test, the highest number in the state. Dorchester County had 228 people who were positive for the flu test in the same time period, while Berkeley County had 82.

Through Saturday, 15 flu-related fatalities have been reported in South Carolina since late September, according to new figures released Monday by DHEC.

The first death, a Barnwell County child, was reported in late November. Where the other deaths occurred is not listed in the new DHEC figures.

The James Island woman, 73, was otherwise healthy, said Chief Deputy Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal. On Saturday the woman felt weak and dizzy. She died at home on Sunday, O’Neal said.

The woman tested positive for Type A flu, the predominant strain of influenza seen this year. O’Neal said she did not know if the woman had received a flu vaccination. For now, the Coroner’s Office would not identify the woman, she said.

So far, 862 people have been hospitalized statewide for treatment of flu-related symptoms, according to DHEC.

Flu sickness typically peaks in February. This season it started earlier, with doctors reporting an influx of patients complaining of flu-like symptoms.

Dr. Curtis Franke, Lowcountry regional medical director for Doctors Care, said the flu is widespread, which was not the case last year.

“It’s definitely a busier season,” he said.

Doctors Care has been seeing 10 cases of the flu daily, he said.

The predominant flu here is influenza A. Symptoms include fever over 100 degrees, upper-respiratory-system problems, sinus pressure and body aches, he said.

Jennifer Rhyne of Mount Pleasant said she and her three children, ages 5 to 10, tested positive for influenza A in mid-December.

“I was very tired. My children who were very active could not get off the couch for two to three days,” she said. “It’s a very bad thing right now.”

She had chills, fever and body aches that she thought at first was a cold. The illness was present in family members for 10 to 12 days, she said.

She and her children had not received the flu vaccination.

“I’m telling everyone to get the flu shot,” she said.

A flu vaccine is needed every year because flu viruses are constantly changing. This year’s vaccine is designed to protect against three strains of flu that experts predict will be most common. Two of the strains are Type A flu and one is a Type B flu.

The flu shot contains killed virus. About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies that provide protection against the influenza in the vaccine develop in the body.

In 18 of the last 22 influenza seasons, the viruses in the flu vaccine have been well-matched to the predominant circulating viruses, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, it is not possible to predict with certainty which flu viruses will predominate during a given season. Nonetheless, antibodies made in response to vaccination with one flu virus can sometimes provide protection against different but related viruses, the CDC said.