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Number of flu cases growing rapidly

Posted: January 25, 2018 4:20 p.m.
Updated: January 26, 2018 1:00 a.m.

The flu is spreading quickly in Kershaw County, based on new data released by KershawHealth on Monday that it shares with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For the week ending Jan. 20 alone, KershawHealth counted 203 positive rapid flu tests. Just since Jan. 1, KershawHealth has processed 430 positive rapid flu tests, compared to 173 between the weeks ending Oct. 7 and Dec. 30, 2017.

“(Having) 203 positive rapid flu tests is significant,” KershawHealth Marketing and Communications Coordinator Johnny Deal said in an email Tuesday. “During the 2014/15 flu season, the week after Christmas was the peak with 215 positive rapid flu (tests). It is still too early to tell if we are at the peak yet or not for the 2017/18 flu season.”

In conjunction with the rise in positive flu tests, KershawHealth has also seen a rise in the number of flu-related in-patient admissions. Through Dec. 31, 2017, the hospital had admitted nine people as in-patients, with eight of those just during the last three weeks of the year alone. Since then, KershawHealth has admitted 21 in-patients, 14 of them during the week ending Jan. 20.

Deal said KershawHealth’s various offices, the emergency department and Elgin Urgent Care are “very busy” taking care of the influx of flu patients, including those ending up as admissions.

“Adjustments are being made where possible to accommodate the increase in the number of patients,” he said. “The total number of flu admits for KershawHealth for the past week is higher than in previous flu seasons. Prior to (this season), in 2014/15, we had a couple of weeks where 11 people were admitted each week. In-patient admissions numbers are up, and this is in part due to the increased influenza activity.”

Deal said one of the reasons for so many flu cases to be hitting at once is by spreading through what he called “droplet” transmission.

“So, anyone coughing or sneezing with the flu can transmit the virus to those within a 3- to 6-foot range,” Deal said. “However, healthy adults may be able to infect people beginning one day before symptoms show up and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.”

Deal said when the flu started to escalate around Christmas, the timing became “perfect” for transmission with people traveling and gathering together for holiday celebrations.

There has been concern that this season’s flu vaccine is only about 10 percent effective in preventing the flu. This was based on data coming out of Australia, which used the same vaccine during its flu season, which takes place during North America’s summer. In various news reports, the CDC has said it believes the vaccine is about 30 percent effective in the U.S., and it still recommends that those people who can have the flu shot get it if they have not already done so.

“(The) influenza vaccine is still the best method for prevention. It is not too late to get a flu shot for this season,” Deal said, citing CDC prevention information. “Even if you’ve had the flu, the flu vaccine is (still) advised. It could prevent you from getting a different strain of the flu that is circulating.”

According to the CDC’s website, flu vaccines from the 2004/05 season through the 2016/17 season ranged from 10 to 60 percent effective. Estimates from the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons showed vaccines were 48 and 39 percent effective, respectively.

Beyond getting the flu vaccine, Deal said washing one’s hands with soap and water, or with an alcohol hand sanitizer, is “critical,” especially before eating, touching your face, eyes or nose; and after using a restroom.

“Avoid close contact with sick people; eat healthy, get plenty of rest (and) drink lots of fluids; and see your healthcare provider at the earliest onset of flu symptoms. Antivirals are only effective if they are started in the first 48 hours of symptom onset,” Deal said.

Thursday, there were rumors that some 200 students and a large number of teachers were absent from Camden High School (CHS) on Wednesday due to the flu and/or flu-like and other illnesses. Kershaw County School District Director for Communications Mary Anne Byrd said only about 70 students were absent from CHS on Wednesday, along with seven staff members.

“We are seeing flu cases in all of our schools, but it is difficult to give numbers because we may not always know why a person is absent,” Byrd said. “Some children do not seek medical attention, but assume they have the flu; some that do go to the hospital may test negative, but still have flu-like symptoms.”

Byrd said the district had increased its cleaning protocols across the county during the past two weeks and will continue to be diligent in doing so.

“We do encourage families to help us out by keeping students home who are sick. DHEC requires a person (students and staff) to be fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication in order to return to school,” she said.

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