November 3 – As the winter months approach, local and state health agencies are reminding people to adopt healthy practices to prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.
With an early flu season and less virus exposure over the past two years, local and state health agencies are seeing an increase in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza (flu), COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases.
The SC Department of Health and Environmental Control reported three influenza-related deaths and one confirmed influenza-related pediatric death for the end of the week of October 29, according to the DHEC website.
The Midlands region, which includes Aiken County, has reported four flu-associated deaths, according to the DHEC website.
While most people will recover from the disease in one to two weeks, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses are at risk of developing complications, according to a DHEC press release.
At the state level, DHEC, South Carolina Hospital Association, Lexington Medical Center, McLeod Health, Medical University of South Carolina and Prisma Health have teamed up to warn residents to take action now to reduce the effects of respiratory illnesses on families in the state and hospitals, according to the release.
“Although we are at the start of the new flu season, we are already experiencing widespread activity and are preparing for significant flu activity this year,” state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said in a statement. Press. “It is essential that all eligible people get the flu shot now to protect themselves and others. This is especially important for older residents, people with chronic conditions and very young children.”
Locally, Aiken Regional Medical Centers have seen an increase in RSV, influenza and other respiratory illnesses in adults and children.
People wearing masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic and not having been exposed to viruses in the past two years are a few factors in the rise in cases, said Dr. Susan Goldberg of the pediatrics from the Palmetto Pediatric Center and outpatients from Aiken Regional Medical Centers.
“Having very high flu activity in October is very early, and it’s been at least 10 years since we’ve seen a flu season come this early,” she said.
She said there had also been an increase in outpatient pediatric cases because young children hadn’t really been exposed to the viruses until now.
“Every pediatric office in the area shares the stress and tension of not being able to get everyone in who wants to see a doctor and try to help with triage who can wait a few days to be seen,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg said RSV is something hospitals typically see around late October through late March and early April; but she said that over the past two years cases have emerged over the summer. The only thing that differentiates RSV is that it is a specific cold virus and the flu has many different strains.
Goldberg said RSV can be dangerous for young children, premature babies and people with heart conditions because mucus can build up in their lungs, which can cause wheezing, difficulty breathing and symptoms. asthmatics.
For adults, RSV is more like a cold, but with a wheezing cough, she said.
Other RSV symptoms include a runny nose, decreased appetite, sneezing and fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Goldberg said once the flu season passes, cases should decrease.
“The hope is that usually in the spring the virus starts to slow down,” she said.
Disease prevention tips include: washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze, wearing a mask if you’re most at risk, staying home when you’re sick, and getting your flu shot and COVID-19. After receiving a vaccine, it takes about two weeks from the date of vaccination to develop maximum immunity against influenza or COVID-19.
The COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine can be given at the same time.
COVID-19 and flu shots can be given at a DHEC health department, local pharmacies, health care providers, schools, and workplaces. Flu shots offered at DHEC Health Department clinics are available by appointment by calling 1-855-472-3432 to schedule an appointment, or go to scdhec.gov/fluclinics to find the nearest location.
For more information on flu prevention, go to scdhec.gov/flu.