COLUMBIA -- While this year's flu season got a late start, the infectious disease has hit the state with a vengeance in recent weeks.
The first lab-confirmed flu case of the year was in early January. The outbreak officially was upgraded to widespread this week, according the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
College campuses, with students in close quarters and with health care available, often are out front in reporting influenza, and this year is no exception. University of South Carolina and Clemson University health officials Wednesday reported treating higher-than-normal rates of flu and flulike illnesses.
Another indication of the severity of the outbreak: Pharmacies are running out of Tamiflu, the prescription drug that lessens symptoms and can help fend off the disease.
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Tamiflu isn't a replacement for the flu vaccine, said Clair Boatwright, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Health officials still urge everyone who hasn't contracted the disease to get vaccinated against it. There's no shortage of vaccine this year. Once you contract the disease, it's too late for the vaccine to do any good.
Flu symptoms can include a high fever, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and chills. Health experts say gastrointestinal symptoms are more common in children.
Some college students indicated they contracted the flu despite having been vaccinated. That's possible because the flu virus can mutate as it moves across the continents, Boatwright said. But she also noted the students' vaccine might not have taken effect because they got them just before or just after contracting the disease.
Through the years, Boatwright said, vaccines have been the most effective way to prevent the flu.