Beaufort County hospital reports sudden spike in flu cases, especially among children

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Medical experts insist washing your hands is the time-tested method of flu prevention, right behind flu shots. One simple hand washing tip may keep you from catching the bug.

Editor’s note: DHEC numbers were updated in this story on Feb. 7.

Beaufort Memorial Hospital is setting limits on young visitors after seeing a spike in flu cases.

Sherri Rabon, infection prevention specialist at the hospital, said overall numbers for flu are trending lower than they were during the last flu season. However, she said, a sudden increase in cases has the hospital taking precautions.

“Prior to last week, we were probably averaging 30-50 (cases a week),” Rabon said. “Last week, we saw a jump, and it increased to around 100 cases.”

In the first few days of this week, the hospital has seen around 60 cases of the flu.

The greatest rise in cases appears to be among children under 12, Rabon said.

In light of the increase, hospital officials on Monday began asking adults who are experiencing flu-like symptoms — runny nose, sore throat or fever — to not visit patients.

Adult visitors are being asked to limit their time in the hospital, and children under 18 may not visit at all.

“We hope that these precautions will prevent further spread of the flu and other viruses, and better enable us to care for those patients who most need to be in the hospital at this time,” Rabon said in a hospital news release about the visitor limits.

Memorial Health University Medical Center and St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System in Savannah also are restricting hospital visitors under 18.

As of Wednesday, Hilton Head Hospital and Coastal Carolina Hospital had not set restrictions on young visitors.

If you are sick

The news release from Beaufort Memorial Hospital said that most people will be able to recover from the flu or a flu-like illness in a week if they rest, drink fluids and take over-the-counter pain relievers.

However, those experiencing difficulty breathing, chest or abdomen pain, dizziness, confusion or severe vomiting should seek emergency medical attention, the news release said. Those caring for sick children should bring the child to the emergency room if they have bluish skin, are not waking or interacting or spike a fever with a rash.

Numbers lower than last year

Beaufort Memorial Hospital set the same limits on visitors last January. At the peak of the last flu season, the hospital was seeing 150-200 cases each week, Rabon said.

Beaufort County School District, which tracks flu among students, has recorded 61 cases since students returned to school after winter break on Jan. 8, said Jim Foster, spokesman for the district. By comparison, the district recorded 255 cases over the same period last year.

He said district administrators expect this year’s number of cases could rise significantly in February.

The most recent flu data available from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control covers the week from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2. That report says flu in South Carolina is widespread for the fifth consecutive week.

There have been 25 flu-associated deaths in South Carolina since the beginning of the flu season on Sept. 30, DHEC says.

A report from early February 2018 records 84 flu-related deaths in the state at that point in the season.

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Lisa Wilson is a breaking news reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. The 25-year newsroom veteran has worked for papers in Louisiana and Mississippi and is happy to call the Lowcountry home.