South Carolina health officials are preparing for another flu season with memories of last season, which was one of the worst the state has recently experienced in terms of hospitalizations and deaths.
“Last year’s flu season was one of the worst that we’ve seen in recent years,” Department of Health and Environmental Control immunizations medical consultant Dr. Teresa Foo said. “We had a large number of deaths here in South Carolina, and nationally as well. So the same thing that was seen here in South Carolina with the severe season was seen nationally.”
According to DHEC records, more than 135,700 flu cases were reported in South Carolina through 44 weeks of the season, including 292 deaths and 4,549 hospitalizations.
The Centers for Disease Control reports about 80,000 people died from the flu nationwide, surpassing the previous record of 56,000 deaths.
Dr. Fu said the strain of the virus that was most common this past season is an aggressive one. “That one tends to be a worse strain of the virus and it tends to cause more deaths, more severe illness,” she said. “Especially in older folks, which is some of the reason why we saw the higher deaths and hospitalizations.”
Dr. Foo said another factor for the severity of the season is that the vaccine created for that particular aggressive virus is not as effective as for other strains of the flu.
“The vaccine is not as good against that strain of the virus and it has to do with how the vaccine is made,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that the vaccine doesn’t work, so it’s still important to get the vaccine.”
Dr. Foo says the best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated, especially children, the elderly and pregnant women. Dr. Foo said most vaccines will protect from several strains of the flu.
“We’re hoping that because last year was so severe of a flu season that this year people will make sure that they’re getting protected,” she said. “We never know what the flu season will bring. We can’t predict it. We can’t say ‘Oh, this is going to be better or this one’s going to be worse.”