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Health officials give flu update ahead of Thanksgiving travel

As cases and hospitalizations are rising across the state, doctors are warning people who plan to travel and gather together for the holiday weekend.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Doctors are giving advice for those who plan to travel and gather on Thanksgiving after another recent spike in respiratory illness cases.

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, we are seeing a flu season that tops recent years. 

The agency tells News19 there have been over 23,000 confirmed cases of the flu so far this season with over 1,000 hospitalizations. For comparison, this time last year, there were a total of 219 cases with only 21 hospitalizations.

This increase comes just days before many South Carolinians are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Ronda Cortes, who lives here in the Midlands says she is flying down to Colombia, South America for a family reunion. With the such high illness activity in the state, she says her family is taking steps to keep everyone protected.

"There's some older people at the reunion. So, everybody's vaccinated and everybody's bringing COVID tests and we are going to self test once we get there," she said. 

According to Dr. Jonathan Knoche, from SCDHEC, 85% of South Carolinians under the age of 65 have NOT received their flu shot, the single best way of protecting someone from serious illness. 

He gave this advice for those gathering during the weekend, "practicing good hand hygiene, washing hands thoroughly, cover your coughs or sneezes, consider wearing a mask if you're around large crowds indoors, these are just some common sense things people should follow," saod Knoche. 

Daniel Shae is a student at the University of South Carolina. He says he is flying home from Charleston to Connecticut to see family. He notes they're all vaccinated and limiting the number of people gathering together.

"I'm only seeing like four family members, it's a pretty small gathering I'll be at, so I'm not in too worried about spreading it, and I'm not in big groups now"

Though traveling between states and through airports can increase the chances of being exposed, Knoche says you don't need to avoid it, as long as you're careful.

"i think people just need to use common sense when they're traveling. I think it's very reasonable when you're traveling in crowded spaces and airports to put a face mask on."

He says a flu shot won't immediately give you protection. so if you want to be safe when visiting family around Christmas, get your shot now.

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