MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The flu is now reaching epidemic proportions across the U.S. and right here in South Carolina, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flu season starts in November, tends to peak in January, and still holds pretty strong through February. Since school children just recently returned from holiday break, some doctors are fearing the flu could now have more opportunities to spread.
This year, more doctors are seeing the H3N2 strain. According to the CDC, around 50 percent of those who come down with the flu have this strain. H3N2 typically comes with more severe symptoms, hospitalizations, and deaths. South Carolina DHEC is reporting widespread activity. This year there are 14,000 more confirmed cases compared to last year. So far, 38 people have died as a result from the flu in the Palmetto state. Horry, Georgetown and Florence counties all have very high flu counts.
One thing that doctors say is throwing everyone off this year is that the symptoms are different. Dr. Reynolds with Beach Urgent Care says they're seeing more bronchitis symptoms with coughs and body aches, instead of your typical vomiting and diarrhea. "It has allowed some people to think maybe they didn't have the flu. And has kept them in a work environment or out in social environments. So some people have actually had the flu and are not staying at home. And by doing so they may have actually increase the amount of flu we have in the community," says Reynolds.
And even though it's later in the season, doctors and the CDC still recommend you get a flu shot as your best line of protection. This year's vaccine may have a tough time being fully effective, because the main strain it is designed to fight is not the H3N2 strain that doctors are seeing the most of. But remember, shots are designed to fight against multiple strains.
And if you're paranoid about getting the flu, there are some apps that can give you at least some peace of mind. FluView is the CDC's official flu tracker. The app can be found in your app store. It allows you to easily see how severe flu outbreaks are in your area. And Flu Near You is run by Healthmap of Boston Children's Hospital in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund. The app tells you where and how many flu cases have been reported near you. This app can also be found in the app store.
From colds, to sinus infections, to the flu, to allergies - many people are reporting they're suffering more severe symptoms this year. This is the time of year, allergists typically see a lot of patients suffering from indoor allergies like dust mites and pet dander. But since it hasn't been as cold - especially through December - that's actually caused a lot of additional issues for people suffering from outdoor allergies.
No one tracks pollen counts during the winter, so it's hard to tell for sure. But Doctor Schecker with Coastal Carolina Allergy & Asthma Associates says that since we live in a warmer environment, it's very likely some of you are suffering from pollen allergies this winter. This season, allergist are seeing a lot of congestion in the nose, stuffiness, pressure in the head, lots of drainage - along with your typical sneezing, sore throat, and itchy watery eyes. It's making it difficult to distinguish between winter allergies and cold related illnesses. And many patients are saying their allergies are making their cold worse, or having the cold made their allergy symptoms worse.
Doctors warn this is all very complicated. "A lot of the symptoms of allergies and colds are similar," says Schecker. "So sometimes it's hard to tell what you're actually having. Maybe you think you're having allergies when actually you have a cold. And it may just be a particular virus that causes a longer experience. And since the symptoms seem to be like your allergies, then maybe you think your allergies made it worse."
Cold symptoms do not last as long as allergy symptoms, but they can have a lasting impact if you are sensitive to particular allergens. Once diagnosed properly, allergy symptoms become more manageable, even if you catch the common cold. One of the ways to distinguish between the two, if you have a fever - that's not allergies. But having longer symptoms or thick mucus, that could be a symptom of allergies or a sinus infection. And for anyone with asthma, winter and colds and allergies can be especially bad if they trigger any irritation or infection in your lungs. But doctors recommend, if something doesn't seem right, you should see someone right away before it goes on too long.