South Carolina

Doctors urge vaccinations with SC flu cases at 10-year high heading into holiday season

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) — The flu is back with a vengeance in South Carolina after cases dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control report infections are at a 10-year high, 100 times higher than at this point last year, while hospitalizations are 50 times higher.

The spike comes as Americans prepare to gather with loved ones over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“There’s definitely a lot of concern about the amount of flu activity we’re already seeing and what might happen when people start traveling for vacations,” said DHEC medical adviser Dr. Jonathan Bone.

The flu isn’t the only illness doctors are concerned about right now.

according to dr Elizabeth Mack ‘drowns’ staff at MUSC Children’s Hospital in Charleston from respiratory disease.

“Even at this point in the season, we’ve already seen more than we would see most seasons all season,” said Mack, division manager of pediatric critical care at MUSC.

Across the country, there are alarming increases in pediatric hospitalizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association described in a letter they sent to President Joe Biden and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra last week, urging them to to declare a national emergency.

Mack said MUSC sees children of all ages hospitalized with the flu, COVID, RSV and other respiratory illnesses, including children with pre-existing medical conditions and those thought to be otherwise healthy.

While the RSV vaccine is only available for children who are considered high-risk, the flu and COVID vaccines are available and recommended for anyone over the age of six months.

Mack said most children hospitalized with the latter two diseases at her hospital were unvaccinated.

“Before this year I would say the severity and the number of children we saw is not what we are seeing now. In other words, we’re now seeing sicker kids at higher volumes,” she said.

Her guidance on vaccination is the same as Knoche’s.

“The flu shot is the most important thing to provide protection,” he said. “It takes time for the body to build up its full immunity, but getting it today, before you travel, offers a level of protection.”

The CDC reports that South Carolina is experiencing widespread flu activity as the agency lists it among four states and the District of Columbia where the spread of the disease is at the highest level the CDC classifies.

Doctors say it’s too early to know if the early flu peak the state is seeing means numbers will come down sooner, too, or if it portends a long winter of prolonged illness.

DHEC said it looks like this year’s flu shot is well suited to provide protection against the flu.

But Knoche added that it only works if people get the shot.

“About 50% of people over the age of 65 have received their flu vaccine, but in the younger population it’s only about 15%,” Knoche said. “So many young people have a long way to go in not only protecting themselves from the flu, but also protecting those around them.”

Public health experts have warned of a possible “triple demic” of flu, RSV and COVID this winter.

South Carolina’s COVID numbers are low right now, but DHEC warns that the situation is similar to what it was this time last year, before the state saw a huge surge in the Omicron variant in January.

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