Flu season is hitting South Carolina harder and earlier than normal.
The southeastern states are reporting the most flu cases in the nation for the 2012-2013 season, but what concerns South Carolina health officials is how early into the season these cases of influenza are being diagnosed.
“What we have seen in South Carolina in just the last 3-4 weeks is a significant upturn in the number of cases being reported, the number of hospitalizations, and unfortunately even the number of people who have deceased due to the illness,” Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Jim Beasley told South Carolina Radio Network. He added flu season typically peaks in February.
According to DHEC’s latest numbers, there have been at least 571 hospitalizations of patients with the flu through the most recent data available through December 22. The Charleston Post & Courier reports there are now 15 deaths linked to the illness. By comparison, North Carolina has more than twice the population of South Carolina and only 14 reported flu-related deaths.
DHEC says only one death was reported during the relatively mild 2011-2012 flu season.
Federal health officials were already worried about an earlier outbreak this year after noticing that the H3N2 was the most common subtype. “The subtype we are seeing in most of the people with flu this year is… called H3N2,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden told reporters in early December. ”That is generally associated with more severe flu seasons.”
Flu cases in South Carolina have been classified as the most severe level“widespread” since November 24. Beasley recommends that all South Carolinians older than 6 months get a flu vaccine as soon as possible, warning that even an inoculated person is still vulnerable for a few weeks after receiving the vaccine.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this is the earliest regular flu season since 2003-2004, which was also considered severe.