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Tis’ the Sseason for Flu and the Flu Vaccine

January 06, 2022
Dr. Temujin Chavez

Florence was spared from influenza (flu) last season, but we may not be as fortunate this upcoming winter. During the 2020-21 flu season, the United States experienced its lowest flu activity since 1997. This is likely because of many people's efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic affected how many people interacted, including increased handwashing, face mask wearing, decreased travel, and people maintaining a safe social distance from each other. These activities have affected many respiratory viruses. Many Americans, and South Carolinians, experienced fewer infections with common cold viruses, enteroviruses, parainfluenza, and influenza viruses. In fact, a July 2020 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Report (MMWR) shows weekly cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infections reached a low this country had never experienced before. It was a pleasant result not replicated this year. Last spring and summer, the country, including South Carolina, experienced a significant increase in cases of RSV infections. I believe it’s reasonable to assume the decreased circulation of other respiratory viruses will also be a temporary effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One month ago, on October 9th, the CDC reported that all states experienced minimal to low influenza activity. As of November 27th, the CDC listed only three states (Georgia, Mississippi, and New Mexico) as having either moderate or high influenza-like illness (ILI) activity. South Carolina is currently classified as having LOW influenza-like illness activity. This low activity is not unusual when looking back at 2017-18 and 2018-19, widespread MODERATE to HIGH influenza-like illness activity did not begin to occur until the last week of December. Typically, influenza outbreaks occur from February to May. Thus, this holiday season is an excellent time to prepare for a possible increase in our risk of becoming infected with influenza.

The risk of becoming infected is still important. Last year, the CDC reviewed eight years worth of data involving influenza-related hospitalizations. 1 in 8 people hospitalized with influenza experienced serious heart complications. Most of the hospitalized people had either acute heart failure or acute ischemic heart disease (i.e. a heart attack). Children also are not spared from hospitalizations and harm when infected with influenza. During the 2019-2020 influenza season, 199 children died due to an illness with influenza. During the 2018-19 influenza season, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) reported that 4,489 hospitalizations occurred, with the highest period of hospitalizations occurring the week ending January 27th. Now is a good time for you and your family to get the flu vaccination.

There are several types of influenza vaccine to include egg-free versions (Flucelvax Quadrivalent & Flublok Quadrivalent) and higher doses (Fluzone High dose & Fluad Quadrivalent) that provide extra protection for people who are 65 and older or are immunocompromised. Additionally, five other flu vaccine types are standard dose varieties for people six months and older. Historically, influenza vaccines are 40-60% effective in preventing illness.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) and CDC recommend that everyone six months and older get a vaccine either as a flu shot or nasal spray. There is no reason to delay getting the vaccine. When you, your child, or your grandchild get the flu vaccine please ask your physician or nurse if there are any other vaccinations they recommend you get. Many vaccinations, including the COVID-19 vaccines, may be given the same day as the influenza vaccination.

Dr. Temujin Chavez is an internal medicine physician at MUSC Health Florence Medical Center and is board certified in infectious diseases. He is accepting new patients. For more information, call 843-674-6400, or visit