Forget Christmas. It's beginning to look a lot like flu season.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reports that flu activity was widespread across the state during the week ending Dec. 13 - and that more than 1,000 lab-confirmed cases have originated in Charleston since flu season started, more than any other county.
Between Dec. 7 and Dec. 17, 3,700 positive rapid antigen tests were tracked in South Carolina by the health department - 1,000 more than the same week last year. And since Sept. 28, when the season officially started, more than 9,500 lab confirmed cases have been reported in the state, compared with about 7,500 during the same window last year.
This, of course, doesn't count patients who simply suffered in silence at home, never consulting their doctors.
"We were aware that there were a lot of absences with students (last week), as well as teachers and staff," said Pat Raynor, a spokeswoman for the Dorchester 2 school district. "We had eight or nine people sick at the district office week before last with flu."
A spokesman for Berkeley County schools said he was not aware of an unusual number of flu-related absences last week and Erica Taylor, a spokeswoman for Charleston County schools, said the district has no way of knowing why students stay home, unless parents specifically offer a reason.
"The kids may have had the flu, but we wouldn't really know," Taylor said.
The incubation period for the flu may last between one and four days, meaning students could be spreading the illness at home during their holiday break but may not yet appear sick, said Dr. Alec Decastro, a Medical University of South Carolina family practitioner.
Also, he cautioned, don't buy into the erroneous hype that the flu shot doesn't work this year. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a bulletin explaining that this year's vaccine is only partially effective for the predominant A strain, the flu shot still protects patients against other strains.
"The best way to control the flu is to achieve high flu vaccination coverage in populations," a spokeswoman for the state health department said. "Children and staff who are ill with the flu should be excluded from school until they no longer have symptoms."
The CDC also says that adults and children with flu-like symptoms should not travel, as commercial airplanes - or any closed spaces - can "facilitate the transmission of influenza from person to person or through contact with contaminated environmental surfaces."
Symptoms to watch out for include fever, body aches, nasal discharge and sore throat, Decastro said. Transmission occurs through coughing, or exposure to droplets of bodily fluid.
"It's still flu season, if you have a chance, I'd still go out and protect yourself," he said.