HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Already this season, South Carolina has had 22 flu-related deaths, and the season won't hit its peak for another few weeks. With multiple strains and more people already affected, doctors say the best way to start fighting the flu is to stop it before it spreads.
The waiting rooms at Urgent Care clinics, hospitals and family doctors are all seeing a constant stream of patients with the flu and flu-related symptoms.
"This has been a really bad flu season, it's the worst we've seen here at Access Medical in over 20 years," says Kathryn Lake, a nurse practitioner with Access Medical Center in North Myrtle Beach.
Access Medical Center is treating 20 cases of flu a week. Grand Strand Regional is seeing almost a 30 percent increase in patients compared to this time last year.
"The amount of patients we are seeing is unusual for January, we usually see the most flu-cases in February and March," explains Joan Carozza with Grand Strand Regional Medical Center.
Carozza says the hospital has stations around the hospital with hand sanitizer and will provide tissues and masks to patients to prevent the spread of germs.
Waccamaw Community Hospital also encourages people to use masks.
"We've had 104 positive cases in both our locations, in Georgetown and Waccamaw," says Angela Harris, the Infection Prevention Manager with Waccamaw Community Hospital.
Doctors are educating their staff to keep the virus from spreading. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 41 states have widespread influenza activity, with high numbers of the virus in South Carolina.
"The flu can be fatal if it is not treated appropriately," Lake warns.
Hospitals around the country are limiting visitors. Hospitals and clinics on the Grand Strand are not doing that, but do have steps in place to stop the spread of germs.
"Be advised when you come in here we will be asking you to wear a mask and having you in designated areas," Harris explains.
"We try to get them into designated areas, which can make people upset, they think they're jumping in line. But that's not the case, were just trying to isolate the people who have the flu," Lake agrees.
Doctors are trying to keep up with the full waiting rooms.
"We can give you a mask and try to expedite getting you into a room as quick as possible so we can prevent the spread in the waiting room to the people who are not ill, and also when you come here you don't feel good so we want to get you in and out as quick as possible," Lake says.
Doctors stress that it is not too late for you to get your flu shot.