Ten deaths from the flu have been reported in South Carolina as the number of hospitalizations and fatalities climbs well above last year’s mild season.

Flu season

Sept. 30 to Dec. 15Deaths10Hospitalizations519Oct. 2, 2011, to July 7, 2012Deaths1Hospitalizations114Note: Figures are for lab- confirmed cases of flu State DHEC

Statewide, 519 people with laboratory-confirmed influenza were admitted to hospitals from Sept. 30 through Dec. 15, only partly through the season, according to the latest figures available from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Flu facts

Symptoms: Fever, headache, body aches, severe fatigue and cough.Duration: One to two weeks.How it’s spread: The flu is contagious up to seven days from the start of symptoms.How it’s treated: 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.Avoiding the flu: A flu vaccination is the most important thing. It typically takes about two weeks to become fully effective. Frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowds also will help.Precautions: Those allergic to eggs, pregnant women and those who have a chronic disease should check with their physician before getting a flu shot.State DHEC

In comparison, last year’s flu season began late and resulted in one death and 114 people hospitalized with lab-confirmed flu from Oct. 2, 2011, to July 7, 2012, according to DHEC.

So far, widespread flu has been reported in 29 states, including South Carolina, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Christmas Eve, 68 patients tested positive for the flu at Nason Medical Center’s five locations in the Lowcountry. This month, the centers treated 832 people for influenza, said Dr. Barron Nason.

“That’s extremely high,” he said. “It’s hitting early and it’s hitting hard.”

Nason has clinics in North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Summerville and on James Island. He said the emergency and urgent care centers have sent two elderly patients to a hospital because of complications from the flu.

Flu vaccination offers protection against the illness, but it needs two weeks to become fully effective. The injection does not give people the flu, as some worry, he said.

Influenza vaccines protect against infection and illness caused by the three influenza viruses in the vaccine that research indicates will be most common this season.

Flu vaccines will not protect against infection and illness caused by other viruses that also can cause influenza-like symptoms. There are many other viruses besides influenza that can result in influenza-like illnesses that spread during the flu season, according to the CDC.

Except for children under 6 months old, everyone who is healthy should get a flu vaccination. An estimated 60 percent of Americans have not gotten the shot this year, the CDC reported.

Typical flu symptoms are fever, sore throat and aches and pains. There is a big difference between a cold and the flu.

“If you have to ask, you probably don’t have the flu. If you’ve got the flu, you’re bedridden,” Nason said.

Holiday travel and socializing can create more favorable conditions for the spread of the flu, he said.

Almost all the hospitalizations for treatment of flu complications occurred in children 4 and younger and seniors 65 and older. The deaths also occurred in those age groups, according to a DHEC chart that tracks the illness from Sept. 30 to Dec. 15.

Trips to an emergency room for influenza-like illness in South Carolina peaked on Dec. 9 at 200 per day, and declined to about 125 per day on Dec. 16. In this region, the Medical University of South Carolina, Trident Medical Center and Roper St. Francis Healthcare combined have seen from 25 people to 50 people daily with flu symptoms from mid-November to mid-December, according to DHEC.

Since Sept. 30, more than 23,000 people statewide have tested positive when given the rapid flu test, which provides results within 15 minutes. Of those, 8,470 tested positive for flu from Dec. 9-15, compared with only 37 positive flu tests for the same week last year, according to DHEC.

The latest figures show a significant statewide increase in patient visits to clinics for influenza-like illness. Overall, 3.6 percent of patients complained of flu-like symptoms in the week ending Dec. 15, compared with 0.44 percent for the same time last year, DHEC said.

Flu-like symptoms were higher in the coastal region, where slightly more than 10 percent of doctor’s office visits were for that reason, compared with about 3 percent in the Upstate, DHEC reported.

Through Dec. 15, the greatest number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu, 32, was reported in Beaufort County. Charleston County had 29 confirmed flu cases, Dorchester County had nine and Berkeley County had five.