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South Carolina this past week was the sickest state in the country with 4.3 percent of the population (about 176,300 people) experiencing flu-like symptoms, according to Kinsa, a company tracking where flu-like illness is spreading in real time with the help of its smart thermometers.

Kinsa has collected more than 10 million (anonymous) temperature readings (averaged 40,000 per day last flu season) and the Kinsa Insights team tracks outbreaks of the flu by studying aggregate data of where fever and other symptoms are popping up around the country.

Kinsa says its numbers are nearly perfectly aligned with the CDC's influenza data over the past three years.

And the data show South Carolina is having a tough go in 2018. The number of illnesses represents an 89 increase over this time last year and a 12 percent increase over the previous week.

Charleston was the sickest city in the country with nearly 42,000 residents reporting flu-like symptoms. The national illness level was down about 4 percent from the previous week, but there remained over 9.5 million sick people.

Dr. Linda Bell, director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control and state epidemiologist at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, says each flu season is unique. The timing of the peak activity and how severe a season will be are hard to predict, making it very important to protect yourself against flu as early as possible.

“It is important to get vaccinated now,” Bell says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and DHEC recommend that everyone 6 months old and older get a yearly flu vaccine. Even if you don’t have a regular health care provider, the vaccine is available in many settings. In addition to DHEC clinics, many local providers — including doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, college health centers, schools and workplaces — now offer flu vaccines.

“Some people are more likely to get serious complications from the flu, such as pneumonia or inflammation of the heart or brain. This includes infants and young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with chronic medical conditions like asthma, heart or lung disease and diabetes. Making sure that you -- and those in these vulnerable groups — are vaccinated will provide much needed protection,” Bell says.

Bell cites significant benefits to getting the flu vaccine:

• It gives your body the ability to fight the flu if you are exposed to someone who is ill.

• It is effective in protecting against several different strains of the flu that circulate each season.

• It offers lasting protection against the flu for at least six to eight months.

• It is the only protection shown to reduce hospitalization and deaths caused by the flu.

Amid the spirit of giving during the holiday season, there is no better public gift you can give than providing flu vaccinations for yourself and your family.

As Bell says, “The annual flu vaccine is the single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

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