South Carolina has suffered 20 additional deaths attributed to the flu.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control says 17 of the latest deaths occurred between Jan. 14-29. Five earlier deaths have just recently been attributed to the flu.

Since October, health officials say 46 people have died from the flu in South Carolina. Hundreds have been hospitalized.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It can cause mild to severe illness and can be deadly — especially to vulnerable people, including the very young, the elderly and those with certain chronic health conditions. Symptoms can include a sudden onset of fever, dry cough, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, sore throat, and nasal congestion or stuffiness.

With school in session, children are in close quarters with other kids, raising the risk of contracting all the flu. More than one school has been affected. Nearby, Clarendon Hall closed Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week. The school in Summerton released a statement that it closed because of “a number of students and staff members who have tested positive for the influenza virus.”

The flu season is at its peak but is not done. And the best insurance against contracting the virus remains vaccination -- even at this point in the year. From the date of vaccination, it takes approximately two weeks for the antibodies that provide protection to develop in the body.

Arnold Monto is a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. He studies the flu and sits on advisory panels about immunization.

In writing for theconversation.com, he explains there are two subtypes of A influenza viruses affecting people this year. “One of the subtypes, called A (H3N2), is known to be a bad actor. When that virus started circulating in the U.S., we public health experts began to worry that this was going to be a big year with a large number of illnesses and hospitalizations.”

Doctors and public health officials still recommend getting vaccinated because in much of the country, the outbreaks are still going strong and flu transmission may last into April and May, Monto says. “Also, there is another type of influenza, B, and that often takes over late in the season. It is in the vaccine as well.”

In addition to getting vaccinated, South Carolina residents are encouraged to practice good health habits. DHEC offers the following tips:

• Stay away from people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick.

• Stay home from work, school and errands if you are sick. You will help keep others from getting sick.

• Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue, if one is handy. Throw it away immediately after use. Otherwise, use your upper sleeve.

• Wash your hands often and thoroughly.

• Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

A total of 94 deaths in South Carolina were attributed to the flu during the 2017 season. Officials are doing their best to be sure the toll is lower this year. Do your part in practicing good health habits – and getting a flu shot if you have not already done so.

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