Flu didn't take a holiday in South Carolina

This screen capture shows a influenza map at the national Centers for Disease Control website.

COLUMBIA, S.C. - The flu didn't take time off in South Carolina over the holidays, and now doctors and nurses are worried it will keep spreading as people go back to school and work.

Twenty people have died from the flu so far this season in South Carolina, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Seventeen of the deaths have been in people over age 65, DHEC said.

But people of all ages keep getting and spreading the flu. Officials hoped school break and vacations might slow the outbreak down. But that hasn't been the case.

Almost 9,000 positive flu tests were reported statewide the week before Christmas. That number grew to 10,000 positive tests the week that included Christmas, according to DHEC.

"This is a heavy season," said Dr. Matthew Crist, an epidemiologist with DHEC. "This is the type of season seen only a couple of times a decade."

Schools are preparing for children who come back to school despite having flu symptoms.

"Some children love school and say 'Mom, I feel fine.' Then their teachers will notice them getting droopy and send them to us," Lexington School District 1 lead nurse Jessica Porter told The State newspaper.

Employees will likely feel like they need to work after extended time off too, Porter said.

And even with all the news about a less effective flu shot this year, doctors said it isn't a good idea to skip the vaccination. Almost all the flu cases this year have been a strain not covered by the shot, which means the vaccination is working against several other strains.

Crist said the easiest way for people not to spread the flu far and wide is to stay home when they start feeling bad.

"One of the most important ways to protect others, particularly if you have a fever, is to not expose others," Crist said.

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Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com