Seven more people have died from laboratory-confirmed influenza in South Carolina, raising the toll to 22 victims in 13 counties, including a local fatality.


There have been 22 fatalities since Sept. 30:*19 among patients 65 and older2 among people ages 50 to 641 is a child younger than 4.*Seven of the deaths were reported for the week ending Jan. 5Source: DHEC

Charleston and Beaufort counties each have had one death from flu complications, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Lexington and Greenville counties have had three flu-related deaths each. Aiken, Oconee, Pickens, Richland and York counties each reported two deaths.

The fatalities are listed in the latest DHEC “Flu Watch” report released Thursday that provides new information on flu-related sickness and deaths from Dec. 30 to Jan. 5.

In Charleston County, a 73-year-old James Island woman died at home on Dec. 31 after falling sick the day before when she complained of feeling weak and dizzy. She tested positive for Type A flu, the predominant strain of influenza seen this year, the Charleston County Coroner’s Office reported.

DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley said he was not allowed to confirm that the one Charleston County flu death in the new report was the death previously reported by the coroner.

A rise in visits to doctors offices for flu-like symptoms, more people testing positive for the flu and the climbing death toll are reported in the new Flu Watch. The first fatality, a Barnwell County child, was reported in late November.

Overall, the state’s current flu count covers from Sept. 30 to Jan. 5. In that time, 1,087 people have been hospitalized with symptoms confirmed in lab tests to be influenza-related. Some 557 of them were people 65 and older, which is also the age group where 19 of the deaths have occurred.

Statewide for the week ending Jan. 5, there were 198 lab-confirmed influenza hospitalizations and 3,009 people testing positive for flu compared with only 37 positive tests for the same time last year. Overall this season, 35,830 people have tested positive for flu using the “rapid flu test” that provides results in minutes in doctor offices, DHEC reported.

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 94 patients in Dorchester County were positive when given the rapid flu test.

Experts say a flu shot is the best defense, but it can take two weeks to become effective. 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,” he said. “This is a big, big difference.”

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 five days,” Dr. Katherine A. Minnick, an infectious-diseases specialist, said in an email. She is with Roper St. Francis Healthcare.

In the coastal region of the state, 4.2 percent of patients at doctors’ offices reported 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.

Compared with last flu season, when only one fatality was reported, this is a bad year for influenza in South Carolina. However, 49 people died in the 2009-2010 flu year from October to June, according to DHEC.