‘A variety of fevers…a lot of vomiting’: The flu is hitting hard and early this year

November 03, 2022
Man wearing a surgical mask looks at woman putting bandaid on his arm where he just got a flu shot.
A man gets a flu shot in this image from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kristy Brittain, a pharmacist at MUSC Health who gives flu shots, knows exactly why they’re so important. This year’s flu season hit early — and hit home for her family. Brittain’s children came down with the flu before they had a chance to get vaccinated. “They had a variety of fevers and there was a lot of vomiting,” she said.

As you can see on the graph below, they have plenty of company. The flu has roared back with a vengeance after two years of low case numbers during the pandemic.

Graph shows almost no flu cases in 2020-2021, more the next year and a big spike in 2022-2023. 
Graph by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The top type of flu being reported in South Carolina is influenza A. It has infected more than 8,600 people statewide so far this flu season. Influenza B has hit more than 220 people, and a handful of people have been infected with two types of flu at the same time.

Brittain said at this point, it looks like this year’s vaccines are a good match for the flu strains that are circulating. But they only work if people get them. “I think there are some patients who wait to get vaccinated until later in November or early December because they are thinking, ‘Oh well, most of our spikes end up happening in the colder months when people are inside in close proximity.’ But that's not really happening right now. Getting vaccinated as soon as possible is key.”

Brittain, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the vaccine will not give you the virus. “It's an inactivated vaccine and uses a dead virus. So there's not a possibility that it will give somebody the flu.”

Instead, it will give them protection, causing the body to make antibodies about two weeks after vaccination. And Brittain recommended that even people who have had the flu — like her own kids — get vaccinated. “You could have been exposed to influenza A and we could later see influenza B circulating and you could get sick again.”

Headshot of Dr. Kristy Brittain. She has long reddish hair and is wearing a necklace and jacket. 
Dr. Kristy Brittain

She said MUSC Health is trying to vaccinate as many people as possible. “Our outpatient pharmacies are helping to meet the need. We’re doing this through our vaccine clinics for both patients and employees. We are also working with community groups and employers to offer flu vaccination.”

MUSC Health is also working with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and other health systems to spread the word about flu prevention. Recommendations include washing your hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing a mask if you’re at higher risk of getting seriously sick and staying home and away from others if you’re ill.

The flu spike follows a surge of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, cases in children’s hospitals. RSV hits babies especially hard in part because their immune systems are so new. Children under the age of 5 are also at risk of serious flu-related complications, according to the CDC. The good news is that the RSV surge has eased in recent weeks. But the flu stepped right in to take its place in both children and adults.

Brittain said people also need to be aware of the fact that while there are plenty of flu vaccines, flu antivirals are in shorter supply. “As we're seeing higher rates of influenza we are trying to acquire antivirals for patients. Tamiflu would be an example that somebody would use either to treat a flu case, or in some instances, you'll have patients that would use those as a preventative if someone in their household has the flu.”

Brittain said plenty of households are already dealing with the virus. “I think it's going to be a very active influenza season, based on what we're seeing currently. It's hard to say how long this will continue.”

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