Flu cases are on the rise in York, Chester and Lancaster counties, with this year's strain showing a high resistance to Tamiflu, one of the antiviral drugs used to treat it, health officials say.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending this flu season that doctors treat the flu with a combination of the antivirals Tamiflu and Rimantadine, instead of just Tamiflu, said Dr. Cynthia Reynolds, medical director for North Central Family Medicine, a community medical center with three clinics in Rock Hill and one in Chester.
It is not unusual for the flu to develop resistance to an antiviral drug because the virus is constantly mutating, said Clair Boatwright, spokeswoman for S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
"It depends on what strain of the virus is circulating whether or not it's effective," Boatwright said. "That's why the World Health Organization works with manufacturers of vaccines and antiviral drugs to develop new ones. It's an ongoing fight."
Health officials say the flu is widespread throughout the state, which means cases have been reported in at least half of its regions.
The Upstate region of South Carolina, which includes York, Chester and Lancaster counties, is seeing fewer cases of the flu compared to the Midlands and coastal areas, Boatwright said.
In the Upstate, 1.32 percent of the population was treated by a doctor for an influenza-like illness during the week of Feb. 8 through 14, compared to 3.35 percent in the Midlands and 5.05 percent in the coastal region.
North Central Family Medicine began seeing positive flu cases about three weeks ago, said Reynolds.
This season, the center has had seven patients test positive for the flu in its Rock Hill clinics and one positive case in its Chester clinic, Reynolds said.
Piedmont Medical Center has treated nine patients with the flu since its first confirmed case at the beginning of the month and some of those patients were hospitilized, said spokesperson Allison Mallard.
But so far, area doctors say this flu season is not shaping up to be as bad as last season.
For the week of Feb. 8 through Feb. 14, York County had 67 cases of flu confirmed by rapid flu test -- a quick test for the flu performed in a doctor's office by swabing inside a patient's nose. Lancaster County reported 31 flu cases and Chester County had no cases.
During the same period last year, there were 137 cases of flu in York County confirmed by the rapid test, 18 in Lancaster County and three in Chester County.
Last flu season, York County had 870 cases of flu confirmed by rapid test. Statewide there were 30,161 cases.
Boatwright said the number of flu cases is usually higher than reported because not all of those with the flu seek medical treatment.
Sometimes, a person might think they have the flu when it's really a bad cold, Boatwright said. "If it's the flu, they will feel like they've been hit by a freight train," she said.
Not too late for flu shot
Boatwright said it's not too late to get a flu shot. But she said those who haven't had the shot need to get it now, because it takes about two weeks to build up an immunity.
"It's much better to do prevention than to get antivirals for the flu," she said.
A common misconception about the flu vaccine is that it causes the flu, Boatwright said. But the vaccine contains a killed virus, so it cannot give a person the flu, she said.
Boatwright said the flu season can continue until May, and the virus might cause death, especially in the very young, the elderly and those with existing health problems.
"The flu really beats up your immune system. It leaves you prone to other diseases," Boatwright said. "It knocks you down, and it's the other diseases that can take you out and kill you."
ABOUT THE FLU
What is the flu?
A virus affecting the entire body. The resulting illness can be mild, like a bad cold, or serious enough to cause death.
How do you get the flu?
It is spread through coughing or sneezing or by coming into contact with something a sick person has touched and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
What are symptoms of the flu?
Fever greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose. Some people may experience upset stomach and vomiting.
Who is at high risk for the flu?
-- age 65 or older
-- children ages 6 to 23 months
-- children or adults with ongoing health problems
-- women who are pregnant
-- caregivers for children or the elderly.
How can I avoid the flu?
Get a flu shot from your doctor, pharmacist or health department. Wash hands thoroughly and often. Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth.
What can I do if I have the flu?
Get plenty of rest, drink a lot of liquids, such as water, fruit juice and thin soups, and avoid drinking alcohol and smoking.
Are there medicines available to treat the flu?
Over-the-counter medicines are available at stores to treat flu symptoms, but they will not cure the flu. Antivirals are medications that can shorten the course or severity of the flu, if they are taken at the first signs of illness.
The flu is serious if you have:
-- a high fever that won't go away
-- trouble breathing
-- pain or pressure in your chest
-- fainted or feel like fainting
-- felt confused
The flu is serious in children if he/she has:
-- a high fever that won't go away
-- trouble breathing
-- bluish skin color
-- refused fluids
-- another medical condition that becomes worse, such as asthma.
How to avoid spreading the flu:
Wash hands often and thorougly. If you are sick, stay home from work, school and errands to protect others. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and then throw it away. Otherwise, use your upper sleeve.
Source: S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control