AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) — After flu cases dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus is spreading ahead of Thanksgiving — with Georgia and South Carolina among the hardest-hit states.
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control officials report infections are at a 10-year high, 100 times higher than at this point last year, while hospitalizations are 50 times higher.
The number of cases is not only higher, the flu is also spreading much earlier than in recent years.
Health experts in both states are advising anyone over the age of 6 months to get the flu shot.
“There’s definitely a lot of concern about the level of flu activity that we’re already seeing and what might happen when people go on vacation,” said Dr. Jonathan Knoche, Medical Advisor for the South Carolina Board of Health.
“The flu shot is the most important thing to provide protection,” he said. “It takes time for the body to build up its full immunity, but getting it now, before you travel, offers a level of protection.”
Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that South Carolina is experiencing widespread flu activity. Palmetto State, along with Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and the District of Columbia, is where the disease is most prevalent.
And Georgia isn’t far behind, just one notch down on the CDC scale.
Doctors say it’s too early to know if the flu’s early peak means numbers will come down sooner, too, or if it portends a long winter of prolonged illness.
DHEC said it looks like this year’s flu shot is well suited to provide protection against the flu.
But Knoche added that it only works if people get the shot.
“About 50% of people over the age of 65 have received their flu vaccine, but in the younger population it’s only about 15%,” Knoche said. “So many young people have a long way to go in not only protecting themselves from the flu, but also protecting those around them.”
Public health experts have warned of a possible “triple demic” of flu, RSV and COVID this winter.
South Carolina’s COVID numbers are low right now, but DHEC warns that the situation is similar to what it was this time last year, before the state saw a huge surge in the Omicron variant in January.
SOUTH CAROLINA FLU SNAPSHOT:
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