S.C. doctors say early surge in flu cases, unusual trends are concerning

Updated: Jan. 1, 2020 at 12:26 PM EST
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YORK COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) - Doctors at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill say typically at this time of year, they are seeing a trickle of flu cases in their offices. However, right now they describe the number of cases as a surge, and they say that’s especially concerning with several months still left in the season.

“If the current trend continues, and we actually still peak in February - it’s going to be a tremendous amount of outbreak,” said Dr. Arash Poursina, an Infectious Disease Specialist at PMC.

He adds we may see another influx in cases soon with children and adults headed back to school and work after the holidays.

“I expect the surge to pick up, continue or get worse once the schools begin,” said Poursina.

The latest South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Environmental Control (SCDHEC) report shows 708 reported flu cases already this season.

That’s compared to 124 at the same time last flu season and 134 for the state’s five-year average. Dr. Poursina says in addition to the large uptick in cases, they are also seeing another interesting trend.

"We are seeing a lot more Flu B," said Poursina. "Traditionally, if you go back in the previous years Flu B is usually toward the end of the flu season. So we would be seeing more Flu B toward March and April, but for some reason this year Flu B is even out numbering Flu A cases."

Poursina says they don't know why that's the case other than people who may have traveled from the Southern Hemisphere, which experiences flu season before the Northern Hemisphere, may have carried the Flu B strain here. Poursina says the only positive is that Flu A is typically harder on patients than Flu B, but adds the unexpected increase in the Flu B strain is still concerning. His focus now is on stopping the spread.

"The most important thing you can ever do for yourself or your family is vaccination," said Poursina. "It's still not too late if you’ve not been vaccinated. The biggest advantage that the vaccine gives you is that it prevents complications from the flu. You may still get the flu, but the chances of hospitalization, ending up in the ICU or being intubated on the breathing machine significantly goes down."

Poursina insists even if you've already caught the flu virus this season, but have not been vaccinated, you should. He says that is because you could catch a different strain of the virus in the coming months.

"You will have a large number of people who’ve had exposure and a large number of hospitalizations," said Poursina. "If you get your vaccination now, you will be protected when the peak happens."

In addition, Poursina adds handwashing can't be overstated, as well as isolating yourself if you are the one who is sick.

"The most common route of transmission of the flu virus is most often the hands, so wash hands as often as possible and use hand sanitizers," said Poursina. "Everything that you touch that other people have touched, it’s a good idea to sanitize your hands after."

There have been a total of 18 flu-related deaths in the Carolinas this season: 11 deaths in South Carolina and 7 in North Carolina. The CDC estimates there have been 2100 deaths nationwide. SCDHEC is set to release its latest flu report tomorrow.

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