Officials urge vigilance as flu deaths continue to rise in S.C.

Updated: Feb. 4, 2020 at 7:07 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Officials said a 13-year-old Gaffney student died on Friday from complications from the flu. More than 2,600 people have come down with the flu in South Carolina this year, but this is the first teenage flu-related death this year.

There has only been one other flu-related death among kids ages 5 through 17 in the last five years, but it's still important to keep it from spreading. School nurses have made a lot of calls to parents saying their child has a fever and might have the flu.

Dawn McAdams, the Richland County School District Two Lead Nurse, said they see it every year during the winter months. Dozens of kids make their way to the nurse's office each day with runny noses, coughs, and fevers. She said, while sometimes it’s just a common cold, people have to keep an eye out for the flu, especially parents whose little ones get sent home from school.

“Little kids spread germs. They are coughing and sneezing. If they aren’t good about coughing or sneezing into their elbow, good handwashing, they can easily be signs of viruses like the flu,” MacAdams said.

MacAdams said things like body aches, a fever over 100 degrees, and fatigue can be signs of something worse. While she said school nurses will recommend a trip to the doctor's office for these symptoms, school nurses can’t test for the flu.

“We see that students come back to school. Parents said they didn’t have a fever and the child will develop a fever around lunchtime,” MacAdams said.

MacAdams said, on average, Richland Two school nurses are seeing about 50 kids a day come to their office. About five to 10 of those students are sent home with flu-like symptoms. She said the district reports flu absences to DHEC if 20% of a class of students is out sick or 10% of the entire school.

“It can be frustrating for teachers and nurses just trying to keep our DHEC guidelines they way they are set up: if a child has a temp greater than 100 they need to go home, but sometimes that’s easier said than done,” MacAdams said.

She said it's hard to know exact numbers because it's up to parents to report it.

“It’s difficult because students that are already at home sick, we don’t always know why they are home. Sometimes, parents aren’t good about letting the school know that the child is home and it was the flu or it was for strep throat,” MacAdams said.

DHEC officials said, as of today, 54 people have died from the flu this season in South Carolina. That’s up from 32 total deaths last year.

“We’re still in a widespread phase. We are still seeing a lot of individuals with fever, cough, feeling bad, having the flu. Nationwide, there’s almost 20 million cases, 10,000 deaths across the nation,” said Steve Shelton, the medical director for emergency management at Prisma Health Midlands.

Shelton said the flu season is still in full swing and it’s still not too late to get your flu shot. Very young kids and the elderly are most susceptive to severe cases. So, get flu shots for your kids and older family members.

DHEC officials said they offer flu vaccination clinics at participating schools across the state. If you’re a parent you can sign up your child receive the shot annually at school.

DHEC officials said seven people died from the flu in South Carolina last week.

The Midlands has the smallest number of deaths with nine, while the Upstate has the most with 18.

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