Ten South Carolinians have died from the flu so far this season, a significantly lower death toll than the state health department reported last year.
By comparison, during the 2014-15 season, 156 adults and children in this state died from the flu.
Flu-related hospitalizations are down, too. In the 2014-15 season, nearly 3,400 people in this state were hospitalized for the flu. So far this season, the state health department reports that there have been only 340 hospitalizations.
This is good news, but it doesn’t mean the Palmetto State has come through cold season unscathed, and doctors say there’s still room for the flu to make a comeback.
“We never can really predict if there will be a second spike or an increase in flu activity,” said Dr. Linda Bell, an epidemiologist for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. “I hope it won’t lull (the public) into a false sense of security.”
And while the flu has been milder this year, anecdotal evidence from primary care providers suggests that upper respiratory illnesses are raging this winter.
Dr. Bo Machado is the medical director of Health First, a network of four primary care and urgent care offices in the Charleston area.
He said Health First has treated hundreds of patients with this virus, and there’s not much his staff can do for patients except help ease their symptoms because the virus doesn’t respond to antibiotics.
“Instead of lasting three days or five days, it’s lasting 10,” Machado said. “And because of that, it’s spreading to more people because it’s around longer.”
Several of Dr. Kay Durst’s patients have come into her office on Sullivan’s Island with bronchitis and strep throats, too, she said.
“We have seen a lot of pneumonia. It’s been up,” Durst said.
The symptoms are miserable, Machado said.
“It’s really, really tough,” he said. “The suffering is not minimal.”
DHEC doesn’t track common colds, Bell said, but she confirmed that upper respiratory illnesses are circulating throughout the state.
She stressed that hand-washing helps prevent all kinds of illness and that it’s still not too late to be vaccinated for the flu. This year’s vaccine appears to be a good match, she said.
“The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated,” Bell said. “If we get good vaccine coverage and we have a highly effective vaccine, we call that a success because we’re likely to see fewer flu cases.”
Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.