SC health experts recommend flu shots as season gets busy

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's not the most wonderful time of the year when you get sick.

And already an increasing number of South Carolinians are wrapping up 2013 with flu symptoms. Health experts say that trend is likely to continue over the next few weeks.

"Symptoms of flu are a fever and sore throat and a cough, many times mixed with myalgias and muscle aches," said Dr. Gil Potter with the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control. "The onset is usually very sudden and that can help you differentiate from a common cold. Some people will get a runny nose and congestion and think they have the flu but flu is very distinct and usually more severe."

This year, doctors and public health agencies are focusing for the most part on the spread and effects of the H1N1 virus. That's the strain many of us first heard about in 2009, the so-called swine flu pandemic. Back then H1N1 was so new, there was no vaccine and production took a while to catch up.

The good news this time -- effective vaccines are plentiful and available just about everywhere.

"Are there any good reasons not to get the flu shot?" asked Potter. "Not really, because the flu shot for the most part is pretty benign, may cause a little bit of soreness at the site of the injection. But it offers protection against three or four strains of the flu virus. And it's recommended for everyone six months of age and older."

Potter also says there are some other common sense ways to slow the spread of the virus.

"Cough into your sleeve if you have a cough," he said. "Wash your hands frequently. Avoid. If you're sick at all, stay at home. Don't go to school. Don't go to work. Don't go to the mall."

The CDC shows South Carolina so far with a minimal flu outbreak compared to states like Texas, Alabama and Mississippi.

Between 5% and 20% of the population gets the flu each year in the United States. More than 200,000 of those who get it are hospitalized because of complications from the virus.

The flu can spread through coughing, sneezing, and even talking. Flu season usually peaks in January or later.

By the way, for people who hate needles, DHEC says there is a nasal spray form of the vaccine.

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