SC just had its worst flu season in years. Here’s how bad it was and where it killed the most

South Carolina has had its most intense and deadliest flu season since 2018, state statistics show.

While the flu tapered off to a whimper in South Carolina as March began — flu season typically lasts between fall and winter — that doesn’t change the fact that it roared through the state in early fall and early winter. The Palmetto State hadn’t seen that many flu cases and deaths since 2018, but just how bad was it?

The state had a total of 53,876 flu cases for the season as of the week March 5 to March 11, the latest S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control report shows. The state also had 134 total flu-related deaths for the season.

By around the same point in 2018, the DHEC had a reported 125,749 cases of flu and 221 flu-related deaths.

Here is a breakdown of the regions in South Carolina that had the most flu-related deaths for the latest flu season and the one that ended in 2018.

2023 flu deaths

  • Upstate: 46

  • Midlands: 37

  • Pee Dee: 26

  • Low Country: 25

2018 flu deaths

  • Upstate: 72

  • Midlands: 73

  • Pee Dee: 38

  • Low Country: 38

Why was the flu worse in SC this season?

Much of why the flu was harsher this season can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, some health experts say.

“COVID changed everything,” said Dr. Helmut Albrecht, medical director for infectious disease research and policy at Prisma Health in Columbia. “The last two seasons were extraordinarily mild.”

Flu season was subdued the previous couple of years as many Americans wore masks and social distanced because of the onset of COVID. However, as more people began to forgo those efforts when the pandemic waned, that gave the flu a chance to spread again.

What was particularly unusual about this latest flu season was that it started considerably earlier than usual, Albrecht said.

“What we had was massively front-loaded,” he said.

Still, the peak of flu season didn’t last as long this time as in previous years in part because of the latest flu vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

According to recent preliminary data from the CDC, the 2022-2023 flu shot lowered the risk of flu-related hospitalization by more than half among children and by nearly half among adults.

Here is a breakdown of reported flu cases and deaths in South Carolina for every season since 2018, each of which ends around the March 5 - March 11 time frame.

2017-2018 flu season

Cases: 125,749

Deaths: 221


Cases: 3,674

Deaths: 63


Cases: 5,801

Deaths: 99


Cases: 8,053

Deaths: 19


Cases: 53,876

Deaths: 134