South Carolina is seeing an unusual amount of early season flu activity, according to doctors.
Dr. Theresa Foo, an immunization consultant with the Department of Health and Environmental Control, said however that it is too early to make any predictions about the upcoming flu season.
"We track flu activity in South Carolina every year, and every year is different," Foo said. "There is no way to predict whether it will be a bad season or a weak season, but we are seeing some higher levels of flu cases than normal at this time of year."
According to the latest weekly report, a total of 435 influenza cases were reported in South Carolina from Nov. 19-25, a 21 percent increase from the previous week. There have been a total of 1,889 flu cases reported so far in the current flu season.
Meanwhile, the number of flu-associated hospitalizations increased to 29, a 9 percent increase from the previous week. During the current flu season, 101 influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported as well as one fatality.
"That is just a sign to remind everyone to get their flu vaccines," Foo said. "Especially now, because it's the holidays and everyone is going to be together with family."
She said it takes about two weeks after getting a flu shot for immunity to build up.
Influenza A was reported in 76 percent of reported cases, and Influenza B was reported in 22.6 percent.
For the first time this flu season, the number of influenza-like illnesses is categorized as "high" in the weekly report, with 3.72 percent of patient visits to reporting providers attributed to an influenza-like illness.
In Sumter County, the weekly influenza case rate as reported by DHEC is 29 per 100,000.
"We really want to stress the need for everyone to get their flu vaccine," Foo said. "Everyone six months of age and older."
That is especially important for those people at higher risk, she said.
"Anyone over age 65, young kids and anyone with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes or lung disease, those people have risks of complications," Foo said. "They can end up in the hospital or with pneumonia - those are most of our deaths."
Foo said the early season data also shows an unusual number of hospitalizations among people over age 65.
"Unfortunately, that is the group that we see the most deaths each year," she said.
In addition to receiving an annual flu vaccination, South Carolinians are encouraged to take measures to avoid the flu:
* Stay away from people who are sick
* Stay home from work, school and errands if you are sick
* Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
* Use a tissue if one is handy, and throw it away immediately after use -- otherwise, use the crook of your elbow
* Wash your hands often and thoroughly
* Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Find additional information about the flu and where to get vaccinations, visit www.scdhec.gov/flu.