Flu season appears to be well underway in the Lakelands as state and local medical officials report an increase in the virus this month.
Numbers from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's latest flu watch report indicate the number of positive tests in the state increased more than 100 percent earlier this month. DHEC officials said they are seeing flu-like activity rise above base-line levels as reports of influenza and flu-related deaths have increased this month.
"The flu is certainly here in South Carolina, and we are getting lots of reports of new cases in the state here at DHEC," DHEC Medical Consultant Riyadh Muhammad said. "The flu usually peaks in February in South Carolina, so it's not too late for anyone who has not been vaccinated to go ahead and get their flu shot. I think it's a reminder that the season's here and the best way to prevent flu infections and serious complications of the flu is to vaccinate it."
The area saw its trending infusion of the disease begin relatively early last season, with reports of influenza cases peaking by the second week of November 2012. So far this year, the virus' peak has been the second week of December. Officials noted that during the past 20 years, the disease has peaked between January and March 90 percent of the time. Self Regional Infection Prevention Coordinator Nancy Lumley said she's seen swells of the virus as late in the year as May.
"It looks like right now, we have fewer cases than we did last year at this time," she said. "We had a little peak a couple weeks ago, and we're down from then. So I'm hopefully optimistic that maybe we're on the decline. But with that said, we could have a spike next week."
There was no word on the number of cases that came during Self Regional's peak last month. The hospital group has reported 154 positive flu screenings and 34 hospitalizations in December and January, according to officials. Abbeville County medical officials have seen 73 positive flu tests and five hospitalizations over that same time frame. According to DHEC, there have been 17 flu-related deaths in the state, nearly half of those coming since Dec. 28. Laurens County endured one of the season's flu-related deaths in December, officials there noted.
Lumley agreed with state officials that there is no telling how rabid the virus may grow as the season progresses. She noted a second peak last year in March that did not reach the baseline threshold against which outbreaks are rated.
"Actually the flu virus circulates all year-round, but there are so few cases, you don't really see it," Lumley said. "And then it changes all year. So when the virus is changed enough that we're not immune to it, that's when we get the outbreaks."
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