SC Health Leaders Caution Residents to Take Actions to Reduce Impacts of Respiratory Illnesses
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA), Lexington Medical Center (LMC), McLeod Health, Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), and Prisma Health are teaming up to caution residents to take actions now to reduce impacts of respiratory illnesses on our state’s families and hospitals. Such illnesses include respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza (flu) and COVID-19.
South Carolina is already experiencing an active flu season. In mid-October, DHEC confirmed the first flu-related death in South Carolina and yesterday confirmed the first pediatric flu-related death for the current season, which is a sober reminder to us all that the flu is already here and that it can be deadly.
“Although we are early into the new flu season, we already are experiencing widespread activity and we are preparing for significant flu activity this year,” said Dr. Linda Bell, State Epidemiologist. “It’s critical that everyone who is eligible get their flu shot now to protect themselves and others. That is especially important for older residents, people with chronic health conditions and very young children.”
Whenever there is widespread activity of respiratory illnesses circulating in our communities as is currently occurring, it is possible to get sick with one or more of these illnesses. Most people who get sick have mild cases and recover in one to two weeks. However, this is not the case for everyone. Critical illnesses are occurring, and it is important for you to know your risks and take actions now to prevent getting severely sick.
People most at risk for severe illness and complications from these respiratory illnesses are infants, young children, older adults, pregnant people and those with chronic medical conditions.
“For more than two years, the state’s hospitals and health systems have served on the frontlines of the pandemic, encouraging South Carolinians to take precautionary measures, such as handwashing, and access the appropriate immunizations to reduce infections,” said Thornton Kirby, President and CEO of SCHA. “Now we are asking individuals to utilize those same measures to stem the tide of flu, RSV and potential COVID cases impacting our healthcare providers.”
Take these steps daily to reduce the impacts of respiratory illnesses on yourself, your loved ones and our state’s hospitals, which are seeing a dramatic rise in the number of patients.
Wash your hands often
Cover your cough or sneeze
Wear a mask if you are most at risk
Stay home and away from others when sick
Get vaccinated for flu and COVID-19
When you get vaccinated, you reduce your risk of getting sick and possibly being hospitalized or dying from flu or COVID-19 or having long-term complications. It will take your body about two weeks from your vaccination date to build up maximum immunity against the flu or COVID-19. It is also safe and convenient to get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time. You can get these low or no cost vaccinations at a DHEC health department, a local pharmacy or your health care provider. To learn more, visit scdhec.gov or cdc.gov.
Quotes from hospital physicians across the state:
“Lexington Medical Center is experiencing an early start to the 2022-2023 flu season. September and October flu case numbers have been the highest we’ve seen since the start of the COVID pandemic in early 2020. In the last week, we have averaged 100 positive cases per day in our Emergency Room, Urgent Cares and physician practices,” said Donald Moore, MD, Urgent Care physician with Lexington Medical Center.
“In the Pee Dee’s pediatric population, we have seen a steady increase in RSV and flu infections while COVID positive cases have declined significantly,” said Dr. Carl Chelen, McLeod Children’s Hospital Pediatric Intensivist and Chief of Medical Staff for McLeod Regional Medical Center. “At McLeod Children’s Hospital, we are also noting an uptick in co-infection rates with RSV occurring simultaneously with flu and other viral illnesses such as rhinovirus and enterovirus. Infants and children requiring admission are experiencing more severe symptoms, many requiring admission to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.”
Dr. Allison Eckard shared, “MUSC is treating an influx of RSV, influenza, and other viral illnesses much earlier in the season and at higher volumes than we typically see each year over the same timeframe. The number of hospitalized and critically ill patients we’ve seen in such a short period of time is unprecedented. What hasn’t changed, however, is which children are the most vulnerable—infants and young children and those with underlying medical conditions, especially conditions that affect the immune system and the lungs.”
“Prisma Health is seeing a higher level of seasonal respiratory illnesses resulting in a significant increase in patient volumes much earlier this year, said Anna-Kathryn Burch, MD, Division Director, Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Prisma Health Children’s Hospital - Midlands. “We are here to care for our community, and we need everyone's help. Please help by using proven prevention strategies like handwashing, staying home when you are sick and getting your vaccinations including flu and COVID-19 that are known to prevent severe illness and deaths. Working together, we can help stop the impact of these viruses.”
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