Lowcountry hospitals are seeing a slight upswing in flu cases since the holidays, though perhaps not at the rate that has made it a concern in other parts of South Carolina.
Beaufort Memorial Hospital reported 26 influenza cases in the first week of January, the second consecutive week the number has topped two dozen. Though Coastal Carolina Hospital in Hardeeville reported just six cases, that was double the two or three reported in a typical week.
“It’s just a little bit of an uptick,” said Mary Scott, manager of infection control at Beaufort Memorial. “Prevention is key, but right now we’re doing better than the past two years.”
Hilton Head Hospital reported 22 cases in all since flu season began in October but did not have a weekly breakdown.
Across South Carolina, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control reports a “high” level of influenza-like illness in 2017’s first week, with 4.52 percent of patient visits seen for flu-like symptoms. A typical week is slightly above 3 percent.
Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control has elevated South Carolina’s activity status to “regional,” up from “local activity” in early December.
In all, more than 2,000 flu cases have been reported around South Carolina, with four resulting in death. According to a recent WebMD report, Charleston topped the list of areas likely to be hardest hit by the flu this season.
Greenville and Spartanburg also were on the list of top 20 markets for flu activity.
“During October-November-December, we saw very few cases,” said Linda Julian, infection prevention specialist at Coastal Carolina Hospital. “Now for the first week of January, we’ve already seen six cases. That may not sound like a large number, but it is quite a jump.”
The area also has been peppered with significant temperature fluctuations in recent weeks, with temperatures varying from near 80 degrees one day to not reaching 50 a couple of days later.
Experts, however, say temperatures are not nearly as big a factor in flu cases as the average person might think.
“It’s through droplets or contact,” Scott said. “You touch the (flu) bug on the surface, or you come in contact with a droplet. They came out with some studies a few years back that say (weather) has no effect.”
Amy Ramey, emergency room doctor at Hilton Head Hospital, suggested outdoor temperatures do influence the flu numbers in one factor.
“It’s colder, and people tend to be inside and around other people more,” she said. “More exposure equals more illness.”
Health officials say it’s not too late to get a flu shot, with flu season extending well into March and sometimes into April. Proper hand-washing and coughing into a sleeve or elbow, as opposed to the hands, also will lower the rate of spread.