Greenville Health System personnel saw nearly 15,000 patients who tested positive for the flu last year, and doctors are hoping this season will be milder.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported South Carolina’s first flu-related death this season on Nov. 8 in the Lowcountry. Last season, nearly 300 people in the state died from complications involving the flu — 72 percent of them were over the age of 65.
Doctors and pharmacists with GHS are encouraging patients over 65 to get a high-dose flu vaccine as soon as possible to better prevent infection.
Carmen Faulkner-Fennell, a pharmacist with GHS, said there are two types of flu vaccines recommended for elderly patients, and that GHS uses the high-dose vaccine.
“It’s similar to the standard influenza vaccine that everybody typically gets, except it has more of the antigens for the specific viruses — it has four times each amount contained in that one shot,” Faulkner-Fennell said.
Antigens cause the body’s immune system to respond by producing antibodies, which your body produces fewer of as you age.
“Older adults, if they do get influenza, they’re more likely to be sicker, they’re more likely to be hospitalized, and unfortunately, they are one of the populations more likely to die from influenza infections,” Faulkner-Fennell said. “And that’s because their immune system is not able to take care of the virus like a younger person’s is.”
Last year’s flu season was worse than previous years, Faulkner-Fennell said. In 2016, GHS saw nearly 11,000 patients who tested positive for the flu — a number that jumped more than 35 percent in 2017-18.
“Last year was not a great year — last year was a terrible year for influenza. Right now, we’re not seeing anything out of the ordinary,” Faulkner-Fennell said. “What a lot of people worry about is how well the vaccine is matched to the circulating strains, and really we haven’t heard a lot about mismatches for this year, but it is very early in the flu season.”
Flu season typically starts in October and ends in May. Doctors are encouraging anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated to go ahead and schedule an appointment since the vaccine takes a couple of weeks to take effect.