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South Carolina health officials report first pediatric flu death

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A South Carolina resident under 18 died from flu complications, state health officials said Monday, marking the state’s first pediatric flu-related death of the flu season.

The minor was a Midlands resident, according to a news release from the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. Officials did not release any additional information.

At least three South Carolina adults have died from the flu and 178 people have been hospitalized because of flu complications since Oct. 2, according to DHEC data. In North Carolina, the most recently available data shows one person in the state has died because of the flu since Oct. 1. Roughly 1,300 North Carolinians tested positive for the flu in the two weeks ending Oct. 22, state data show.

State health officials recommend that residents get the flu vaccine as soon as possible, stay home if they feel sick and wash their hands regularly.

Experts have warned that flu season may be worse this year in the Carolinas and across the U.S. based on reports from the Southern Hemisphere. What happens in places like Australia, south of the equator, can often predict what happens in places like the U.S., north of the equator, because the seasons are reversed. This year, Australia’s flu season hit the country harder and earlier.

“What Australia and others experienced was the worst flu season they’ve seen in the past five years as far as number of cases and increases,” Dr. Katie Passaretti, vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health, told reporters Sept. 12. Passaretti also said this flu season could be different because fewer people are taking precautions against COVID-19 like wearing masks and avoiding crowds.

Meanwhile, doctors in the Carolinas are also seeing an uptick in cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Data from North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services show 1,776 people tested positive for RSV between Oct. 8 and Oct. 22 — roughly 400 more than the previous two-week period.

RSV is commonly mild with symptoms like a runny nose, low-grade fever and a cough, but it can be serious for young children, said Dr. Amra Zuzo, a pediatrician with Novant Health.

“The concerning symptoms that parents really need to watch out for would be: persistent cough that’s interrupting sleep, wheezing, trouble breathing,” Zuzo told reporters on Oct. 27. “You always want to raise your child’s shirt and look at their chest to make sure that they’re not breathing too fast.”

Zuzo said people with concerns should call their pediatrician.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.