MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Flu season is in full swing, and this year’s numbers already have doctors concerned.
News13 spoke with Dr. William Epperson, a primary care physician at Tidelands Health, in September. At the time, he called what he had seen so far “highly unusual” and said he was shocked by the flu numbers he had seen in August alone.
Now, two months later, he said things are continuing to alarm him and live up to his expectation of a dangerous season.
“Yes, it has lived up to that,” Epperson said. “We don’t ever see the numbers we’re seeing now.”
In September, Tidelands Health diagnosed 142 positive cases of the flu, a drastic increase from September 2021 when the hospital diagnosed only eight positive cases of the flu.
Tidelands is not the only hospital seeing an increase in influenza. Flu cases across the state are way up from last year. As of Oct. 26, the state reported 4,492 positive cases of the flu. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said this is more than half the number of cases the state had during its entire flu season in 2021.
Not only is the virus spreading quickly, but Epperson said the symptoms of this year’s flu strain are harsh.
“This is a deadly virus,” he said. “It’s not a mild disease. Many people say, ‘oh yeah, I had the flu,’ and they had just a regular random cold. Those who truly get the flu, it becomes a memory.”
Epperson said this year’s flu is more dangerous and unusual because people are loosening up on sanitary practices.
“We went through a time where everyone was wearing masks,” Epperson said. “People were more conscious with the separation and hand sanitizing. It seems to be that people are sick of it, and so they’ve stopped doing the things that were protecting them before.”
Epperson said the flu virus is not the only one going around this season. The good news is that while COVID-19 is still out there, he said it should not pose as big of a threat.
Influenza is serious, and then we have other respiratory viruses that affect us, too,” Epperson said. “Yes, there is still COVID out there. The strain that’s out there has not been showing to cause a severe disease that the other strains did.”
He said flu season typically peaks in December and January, so to see this many cases in the fall is highly unprecedented. Unfortunately, he said he only expects it to get worse as the holiday season approaches and people attend large, indoor gatherings.
“People are not doing the things that were protecting them before and maybe even stepped over further into spending more time in a way that they could get infected,” Epperson said. “Now, we’re going to be inside a lot, exchanging the same air.”
He is urging his patients not to wait to get a flu shot.
“Many are coming in now and say, ‘well, I’m planning on getting my flu shot in a week or so,’ and I said, ‘listen, the flu has been in our community for more than two months. I need you to get it right now,’” Epperson said.
He said once a patient has the flu shot, it is up to them to continue to maintain their personal health practices.
“Hand sanitizers work. Hand-washing works. We know it works, and people are not doing it,” Epperson said. “So, if you’ll get back to that, you’ll reduce your chances of getting the flu and these other viruses.”