Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- The flu epidemic continues to be on the rise in South Carolina. State health officials say 46 people have died from the flu since the season started.
We are four months into the flu season and currently, there is a widespread epidemic across the country.
In South Carolina, people over 65 have the highest hospitalization rate and number of deaths. According to DHEC, the best protection against the illness is the flu shot. Infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a chronic medical condition are at higher risk.
Medical officials have stated that this year is the worst they've seen in recent years, but why?
"It seems that H3N2 is the strain that is more prevalent this year, and that is known to be a stronger strain, so I suspect that it's a worse season because it's a stronger strain that is going around," said doctor Amanda Vartanian, a pediatrician with Lexington Medical Center.
To avoid getting the flu or spreading it to others, doctors have advised people to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough. Officials are also suggesting to wash children's toys and avoid sharing any food or drinks with others.
But if you have a newborn, Dr. Vartanian also suggests changing your clothes and taking a shower before you pick up your child.
"The flu is transmitted through respiratory droplets. If you have it on your hands, you're just as likely to have it on your clothes and body. Your newborn doesn't just touch your hands. It touches all over you. Babies can't get vaccinated until they're six months old, so they don't have much immunity against the flu, so it's just protecting them from everything around them," she said.
Related Link: Palmetto Health Restricts Some Visitors Due to Flu
If you're sick with the flu, getting an appointment with your doctor can be a challenge. One company says they have developed a new tool to solve the problem.
The app, DoctorOnDemand, allows patients to get treated through their phone or electronic device. The app accepts many major health insurance plans and offers options for those without insurance.
"They will be walked through an examination. The doctor will show them where their pulse is and where to feel for the lymph nodes and they may ask them to press on the sinuses," said Dr. Ian Tong, Chief Medical Officer with DoctorOnDemand.
The app says doctors are available 24-7. One doctor with the app says he's seen more than a 400 percent spike in patients with the flu in the last three weeks.
It is also important to check with the company you work with, as there are other online doctor options.
Doctors are recommending that people get a flu shot, if they haven't done so already. Dr. Vartanian says the shot is less effective this year compared to years past, but she says people that have the vaccine tend to have shorter and mild courses of the flu.
Related link: Flu Shot Finder: Where to Get a Shot