Flu deaths continue to rise rapidly in South Carolina

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 2/4/18

Flu deaths across South Carolina almost doubled in one week, according to the most recent reports from state health agencies.

Between Jan. 21 and 27, the seventh week of widespread flu activity, the South Carolina Department of Health and …

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Flu deaths continue to rise rapidly in South Carolina

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Flu deaths across South Carolina almost doubled in one week, according to the most recent reports from state health agencies.

Between Jan. 21 and 27, the seventh week of widespread flu activity, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported 601 hospitalizations from the flu and 38 deaths, though eight of those deaths occurred in a previous week but were only just reported.

The age group affected the most - and most severely - continues to be those aged 65 or older. Of the 30 deaths that occurred this week, 21 were in that age range, while six were 50-64 and three were 18-49.

Compared to the previous week, the number of reported hospitalizations increased by 129 (27.3 percent), and the number of reported deaths increased by six (25 percent).

In the current flu season, there have been a total of 2,365 hospitalizations and 84 deaths. Of those, 30 have been in the Midlands, 29 in the Upstate, 14 in the Lowcountry and 11 in the Pee Dee.

Palmetto Health Tuomey has not had a fatality from the flu this season, and a previously hospitalized

infant has been released, said Katie Geer, communications coordinator for the hospital.

DHEC has recorded 17,894 cases of the flu - 17,526 positive rapid antigen detection tests and 368 lab-confirmed tests - reported from 46 counties in South Carolina. Sumter County has had 158.

That marks a 25.4 percent increase in the additional 3,621 cases from the previous week.

There have been 59,425 cases of the flu in the state this season. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's July 1, 2017 population estimate, that is 1.2 percent of the state's 5 million-plus population.

South Carolina is seeing 15.45 percent of visits to sentinel providers are for an influenza-like illness. The baseline is 3.13 percent, according to DHEC.

"The majority of our schools have reported an increase in absences due to illnesses, but no schools in Sumter School District have been closed due to the flu," said Shelly Galloway, spokeswoman for the public school system.

Schools are required to notify DHEC when either 10 percent or more of the total student enrollment is absent on a given day "for reasons not otherwise specified," meaning the absence is not attributed to vacation, a sporting event, inclement weather, etc., or 20 percent or more students are absent or sent home on a given day "in a cohort," meaning one classroom, sports team or other epidemiologically linked group, because of the flu.

Galloway said on Thursday that three schools reported they reached a total of 10 percent, and two reported a cohort that reached 20 percent.

She said schools reaching that level - all elementary schools - are not all attributed to the flu and that the DHEC notification is simply the first step in the process. Now they will look into the reasons for the absences. Attendance numbers fluctuate daily, and while the district is monitoring each school, there is no indication yet they need to be closed.

"Schools will only be closed due to a recommendation by DHEC when the illness reaches a status of pandemic," Galloway said.

Galloway said parents are given information at the beginning of the school year telling them not to send their children to school if they have an influenza-like illness - a temperature of 100 degrees or more with a cough and/or sore throat for which there is no other cause.

"Our schools are disinfected daily according to guidelines from the [Centers for Disease Control]," she said.