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May 29, 2024

Flu Cases Surge in South Carolina Amid National Outbreak

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Dec 29, 2023

Health officials in South Carolina are warning of a significant increase in flu activity and other respiratory illnesses across the state. This comes as the U.S. as a whole is experiencing elevated flu levels not seen in over a decade.

Flu Hospitalizations Rising Rapidly

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported on Thursday that the state has seen a rapid rise in flu hospitalizations over the past two weeks. The number of hospitalizations doubled from 347 to 743 between December 11th and December 25th.

Additionally, South Carolina recorded 5 flu-associated deaths the week ending on December 24th. This hints at a growing burden on hospitals already dealing with an influx of RSV cases.

Flu Hospitalizations

Flu hospitalizations in South Carolina as of December 25th. Source

DHEC physician Dr. Brannon Traxler forewarned that flu activity will likely remain high statewide for weeks to come. She advised residents to get vaccinated if they have not already.

National Flu Levels Reach 13-Year High

The flu outbreak in South Carolina mirrors elevated activity nationwide. According to the CDC, flu hospitalization rates haven’t been this high across the U.S. since the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

At least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations, and 4,500 flu deaths have been reported so far this season. However, the CDC estimates the actual number of flu cases could be up to 41 million.

The dominant flu strain this year is influenza A H3N2. H3N2 viruses tend to lead to more severe illness, particularly among the elderly. The last significant H3N2 wave was in 2017-2018.

Coastal Region Also Seeing Respiratory Illness Surge

Aside from the Midlands and Upstate, coastal areas of South Carolina are getting slammed by flu as well.

McLeod Health announced its Conway and Seacoast hospitals have reached capacity due to the combination of flu, RSV, and COVID-19 cases.

“The majority of our patients are sick with some sort of respiratory illness, like the flu, RSV, or COVID,” said Dr. Paul Richardson, Chief Medical Officer at Conway Medical Center.

AnMed Health in Anderson also requested visitors limit visits to cut down on flu exposure risk. They cited a 300% increase in flu-positive tests over the past 2 weeks.

Augusta Region Struggling With Flu as Well

The Augusta area, which borders South Carolina, has witnessed a similar jump in flu activity. Doctors at University Hospital reported seeing more flu cases earlier than usual this season.

“In the state of Georgia, all of the metro Atlanta area, is considered to have very high flu activity,” said Dr. Rodger MacArthur, an infectious disease expert at University Hospital.

They also pointed out that getting the flu shot provides protection against severe complications. One local hospital saw a 40% decrease in ICU admissions for flu patients who were vaccinated.

Why Is This Flu Season So Severe?

There are a few key reasons health experts believe this year’s flu season is more intense:

  • Australian Flu Predictions: Australia had a record flu season this past winter, which typically forecasts a bad flu year for the Northern Hemisphere too. Their main flu strain was H3N2.
  • Pent-up Immunity Gap: Flu activity has been relatively mild the past two seasons. More people now likely lack immunity, especially children born after early 2020.
  • ** COVID Precautions Lifted:** People are socializing, traveling, and gathering indoors without masks now, allowing flu to spread easier. Schools being open also propagate transmission.

What Happens Next?

Health officialscaution that flu hospitalizations and deaths often continue rising for weeks after activity peaks. So even if cases start declining soon, severe outcomes could keep increasing in the near future.

DHEC’s Dr. Traxler noted it’s unclear if flu has peaked in South Carolina yet or not. She said more people may opt to get the flu shot as word spreads about the difficult season. But it takes 2 weeks after vaccination to build immunity, so getting the shot now is still worthwhile.

There are also worries about a potential “tripledemic” with another COVID-19 wave. Wastewater surveillance indicates the XBB subvariant could drive an uptick in cases this winter. This would further stress hospitals if it overlaps significantly with flu season.

In conclusion, it appears South Carolina is in the throes of a rough flu season similar to much of the country. Health leaders advise getting vaccinated if you have not yet, and urge practicing good hand hygiene as another line of defense. They also recommend staying home when sick to avoid infecting others. How the rest of the winter plays out remains uncertain and depends on whether further COVID surges transpire alongside flu.

References

WLTX: Flu and COVID cases are on the rise once again

Live 5 News: S.C. health dept to hold briefing on respiratory illnesses

Post and Courier: SC sees bad flu season, but worst may be coming

FOX Carolina: AnMed asks people to limit visiting patients as flu cases increase

WTOC: Respiratory illnesses on the rise in the Coastal Empire

WJBF: Augusta doctors address rising flu cases in the CSRA

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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