Avoid the flu

Health care experts say flu vaccines are the best prevention.

A healthy diet, lots of water and plenty of sleep also can help keep you healthy during the peak of flu season.

Other recommendations include:

Stay away from sick people.

Stay home from work when you are sick.

Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

Wash your hands well.

Try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth.

Department of Health and Environmental Control

A lab test has confirmed that the flu killed a Dorchester County woman, the state health department reported Thursday.

It is the first flu death of the 2013-2014 flu season in South Carolina.

A spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said he could not release the woman’s identity, age or the exact date of her death.

In DHEC’S weekly flu report, health care providers reported that 177 positive rapid flu tests were administered across the state during the week ending Nov. 2, compared with 90 positive tests during the same time period last year.

Most of those positive tests were reported in the Lowcountry. Charleston County providers reported 64 positive tests last week. Providers in Dorchester County reported 21.

It’s still too early to draw conclusions from the data about how active this flu season may be, said DHEC Director Catherine Templeton.

“It’s too early to tell, but it doesn’t look good,” she said. “I hope this isn’t a trend. I cannot stress more that people need to go get the flu shot. This is the beginning of flu season, not the middle.”

Vaccine is now available for patients at DHEC clinics across the state. Last month the department announced that a large shipment of vaccine was back-ordered from the manufacturer, and that DHEC clinics would immunize only patients without health insurance.

Now, any patient, including those with Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance, can make an appointment to receive a flu shot at a DHEC clinic.

The vaccine also is readily available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies, she said.

“There’s not a shortage,” Templeton said. “There are flu shots out there. Just look around.”

DHEC has not confirmed what kind of flu the Dorchester woman who died from it had. Cases of Influenza A and B have been reported so far this season, but strains of Influenza A are much more prevalent. Flu shots help protect patients from several common strains of the virus.

“We are in the early stages of our state’s flu season. It is important to get vaccinated now,” said Dr. Linda Bell, a state epidemiologist, in a prepared statement. “The vaccine takes about two weeks to build up your body’s protection against the virus, and vaccination is — by far — the best way to prevent the spread of the flu.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that the flu shot’s effectiveness can vary widely from season to season. While it’s never 100 percent effective, it’s certainly better than nothing, Templeton said.

“It’s not a cure-all, but it is a very good arrow in your quiver, along with washing your hands and covering your mouth and staying and healthy and taking your vitamin C. It’s one of the things you can do,” she said.

During the 2012-2013 flu season, 46 South Carolinians died from the disease. Very young patients, very old patients and patients with chronic health conditions are more likely to develop severe cases and die from it.

Twenty-two residents in South Carolina have been hospitalized with the flu since DHEC started tracking the disease on Sept. 29.

Dr. Dan Lewis, medical director at the Roper Northwoods emergency department, said evidence of the flu has been reported at every emergency room in the Roper St. Francis Healthcare system.

“It’s ramping up for certain,” Lewis said.

None of the patients he has treated so far for the disease had been vaccinated for the flu yet.

“You really ought to get one,” he said.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.