News coverage about Ebola has overshadowed an illness much more likely to affect people in South Carolina: the flu, which has already caused two deaths in the state during the past month.
Doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) are encouraging people to get vaccinated.
“Everyone who’s able to should get their flu shot,” said Cassandra Salgado, M.D., an MUSC infectious disease expert. “Straight-up influenza can be a pretty debilitating thing.”
It can knock you out of commission for days, she said, with a fever, chills, body aches, a sore throat, and a miserable week off from school or work. In rare cases, it can cause symptoms so severe that they’re life threatening.
This flu season, Salgado’s colleague, MUSC pediatric emergency doctor Keith Borg, M.D., has been keeping an eye not only on his patients but also on Australia. Flu season arrives there half a year earlier than in the U.S. due to Australia’s seasonal patterns. When it’s summer in the U.S., it’s winter in Australia.
"The warnings out of Australia, which they say kind of presages our flu season, are bad,” Borg said. “They suggest we could have a really big flu season.”
|MUSC employees line up for flu shots on campus.|| |
In South Carolina, influenza doesn’t usually affect many people until after the first of the year.
But there are exceptions.
“Last season was a good example of that,” Salgado said. “We started to see increased flu activity in November and December.”
Doctors recommend anyone over six months old get the flu vaccine now. When it comes to flu shots versus nasal mist vaccines, doctors say either is okay for most people.
However, there is a new government recommendation this year for a specific age group: kids from 2 to 8 years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the nasal spray vaccine may work better for them than a regular flu shot.
Something that could have an impact on this year’s flu season is Enterovirus D68, a respiratory illness that hit some children hard this summer and fall, causing hospitalizations and at least two deaths. (See related story here.)
“I’m thinking, gosh, if Enterovirus is still in heavy circulation at the time influenza hits, could it overwhelm the system?” Salgado said. “How will those illnesses co-exist and what’s going to happen? I think there are lots of questions about that.”
The flu vaccine is not designed to prevent EV-D68, but it can make a dramatic difference in the fight against the flu. This year's vaccine protects against the three main flu viruses in circulation, and according to the CDC, may also protect people from different but related viruses.
Salgado said the vaccine will not give anyone the flu. "While the flu shot can sometimes invoke an immune response and be associated with a low-grade fever and feeling run down, it’s nothing like having the flu."
She said in addition to the vaccine, frequent hand washing and covering coughs are important ways to prevent the spread of the flu.
MUSC has after-hours children’s clinics in Mount Pleasant, North Charleston and Summerville offering flu shots.