Tent setup outside Palmetto Health to help with surge in flu patients

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The flu season is not getting any better.

According to numbers, just released from South Carolina DHEC Wednesday, there were 38 flu deaths within the last week alone nearly doubling the total number of deaths to 84.

This, as we enter the seventh week of a widespread flu outbreak in the state. Now, hospitals are taking precautions against flu spread by setting up a mobile treatment tent.

Many still have their doubts about getting the flu shot.

A representative with DHEC still says getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself. How well the shot works depends on the strain in the vaccine, and the strain that's circulating.

This flu season, it's the H3N2 virus strain that's circulating according to DHEC. A strain that's similar to this season's flu vaccine.

"We see a surge during flu season, but this seems to be a bigger impact this year," says Dr. Steve Shelton, an emergency physician with Palmetto Health Richland.

The outbreak has caused a total of 84 deaths, so far, this season in the Midlands. Hospitals stays are through the roof.

"It's backing up our healthcare system," Shelton says. 

So much so that Palmetto Health now has a Blue Med Tent set up outside. It's one of only four available in the state.

"All the same safety measures, all of the same staff that's taking care of them. It's just a different location and allows us to take the bed upstairs that they were discharged from, get it ready for that next patient to come in more efficiently," Shelton said.

Doctors say the tents will hold six patients - and more if necessary - patients who have been discharged from the hospital but still in need of care.

"What happens is, the hospital is full of patients that starts to back up into the emergency department, as well as backing up in the recovery room – and the issues with that are, folks get stuck and not the care that they would prefer to receive. We need beds," Dr. Shelton said.

That doesn't mean stay away.

DHEC still recommends seeing a doctor anytime you experience flu-like symptoms. They say even healthy people can experience complications from the flu including pneumonia or even death.

According to DHEC, if treated within two days, doctors can provide antiviral drugs to lessen flu symptoms. But if you're hoping to prevent the flu, the story is still the same.

Dr. Teresa Food is a medical consultant for DHEC. Food says the best way to help prevent the flu is the be vaccinated.

Doctors say it's not too late, you can still get your flu shot. Palmetto Health says they will leave the tent up-and-running as long as necessary. There are three FDA-approved antiviral drugs recommended by CDC to treat flu this season.

Oseltamivir (available as a generic version or under the trade name Tamiflu®), zanamivir (trade name Relenza®), and peramivir (trade name Rapivab®).

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