Seven more people have died from influenza in South Carolina, raising the toll to 22 victims in one of the worst flu seasons to hit the country in a decade.

Charleston and Beaufort counties each report one death from flu complications in the latest numbers released Thursday by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The Upstate has been hit hard, with three flu-releated deaths reported in both Lexington and Greenville counties. Aiken, Oconee, Pickens, Richland and York counties each reported two deaths.

The latest numbers are from Sept. 30 through Jan. 5.

A 73-year-old James Island woman died at home recently of complications from influenza after falling sick the day before, the Charleston County Coroner’s Office reported.

The deaths have included a child in Barnwell County under age 4.

In Charleston County, more than 500 people tested positive for the flu from Dec. 30 to Jan. 5. The number in Berkeley County is 31 and in Dorchester 94 patients were positive when given the rapid flu test.

Statewide, more than 1,000 people have been hospitalized for treatment of complications from the flu since Sept. 30. For the week ending Jan. 5, there were 198 lab-confirmed influenza hospitalizations. Most of the patients admitted to the hospital are age 65 and over, DHEC reported.

The unusually early, hard-hitting influenza season has prompted two hospitals to limit visitors in the labor and delivery area in order to protect patients from the seasonal sickness.

Roper St. Francis Healthcare said it will restrict visitors to immediate family at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in West Ashley and Roper’s Mount Pleasant Hospital. The downtown Roper Hospital quit delivering babies this year. The change will happen sometime this week, said spokeswoman Kim Keelor.

Other area hospitals said they are considering implementing such measures but have not yet made a decision.

Experts say a flu shot is the best defense against the seasonal illness but it takes about two weeks to become effective. East Cooper Medical Center today is offering 100 free influenza vaccinations from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The anti-viral drug Tamiflu is considered an effective way to lessen the effects of flu if it is given at the onset of symptoms.

Justin Shafer, a James Island Charter High School student, said Tamiflu worked for him. His flu symptoms began Friday, he received Tamiflu on Saturday and he was back to school on Tuesday.

“I was feeling terrible. I really do think it helps. This is a big, big difference,” he said.

Tamiflu is also prescribed to prevent spread of the flu from one family member to another.

“The earlier it is started in the course of disease, the greater the benefit in reducing symptoms. It’s recommended to start therapy within 48 hours but lesser benefit may be realized with initiation as late as 5 days,” said Dr. Katherine A. Minnick, an infectious diseases specialist with Roper Saint Francis Healthcare.

In the coastal region of the state, 4.2 percent of patients at doctor offices are reporting flu-like symptoms, which is about double the rate being seen in the Midlands and Upstate, DHEC said.

Some 41 states have reported widespread flu activity.

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