Flu shots remain effective against flu; be sure to get yours

By Teresa Foo, MD, MPH
Medical Consultant
Divisions of Immunization and Acute Disease Epidemiology

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says nasal spray influenza vaccine should not be used during the 2016-17 season, there should be a sufficient amount of injectable vaccine available.  South Carolinians are encouraged to protect themselves with the flu shot.

Changed recommendations for nasal spray

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted that the intranasal live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), also known as the “nasal spray,” should not be used this season after data showed it did not provide good protection against the H1N1 influenza virus during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 flu seasons. The CDC conducts studies each season to gauge the effectiveness of the flu vaccine

The good news is that flu shots have still proved to be effective. Data found the injectable vaccine to be very effective in preventing flu when well matched with circulating flu strains. The CDC and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older.

It is important to get vaccinated

The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu; it prevents flu illnesses, doctor’s visits, missed work and school due to flu, and flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.

The nasal spray flu vaccine has been a popular choice for vaccinating children. Data from recent seasons suggests the nasal spray accounted for about one-third of all flu vaccines given to children. The flu is not like the common cold; it is more dangerous for children, especially for very young children or those with chronic health problems like asthma or diabetes. It is important for children 6 months and older to be vaccinated with the flu shot.  Visit the CDC website for tips on how to make shots less stressful for you and your child.

Likewise, older children, adolescents and adults are recommended to get the flu vaccine each year.  Some people are more likely to get serious complications from the flu that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death.  This includes adults 50 years and older, pregnant women and anyone with chronic medical conditions like asthma, heart or lung disease and diabetes.  Vaccination is also important for health care workers and other people who live with or care for high risk people to keep from spreading flu to them.

Find a provider near you

DHEC once again will be providing school-located vaccine clinics for flu vaccine this year; the flu shot will be the only type of flu vaccine available in school clinics. School-located vaccine clinics remain a convenient way for parents to ensure their child gets the flu vaccine.

Flu vaccines are also available from health care providers, local DHEC health departments, and local pharmacies.  Those age 12 and older can receive the flu vaccine without a prescription at a pharmacy that offers flu vaccine.

Flu vaccines offered at DHEC Health Department clinics are available by appointment. Call 1-800-868-0404 to make an appointment or go to to find the location closest to you. To find a non-DHEC flu vaccine provider, go to to search for the location closest to you.


Facing Down Mosquitoes after a Hurricane

Rain and flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew left many areas of South Carolina saturated with standing water — prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are cold-blooded and do not thrive in cooler temperatures, so cold snaps in the weather can help reduce the likelihood of excessive mosquito breeding.  But don’t leave it to chance; do your part to reduce mosquito populations and lessen the chance of your family being exposed to these pesky, and potentially harmful, insects.

This isn’t just about the bothersome itch a mosquito’s bite might cause; the insect can carry harmful diseases, including Zika, West Nile and more.

Rid your home of places where mosquitoes breed

Mosquitoes breed in standing water. One of the most important steps in controlling them is to identify all of the places where water can accumulate on your property and eliminate them as possible breeding grounds.

  • Empty and turn over containers that hold water such as cans, jars, drums, bottles, flower pots, buckets, children’s toys, wheel barrows, old appliances, plastic sheeting or tarps used to cover objects like grills or swimming pools, etc.
  • Remove debris from gutters.
  • Clear out weeds, leaves, dirt and other debris from pipes, especially those under a driveway. Make sure water does not stand inside or near the ends of the pipe.
  • Clean out rain gutters and downspouts regularly.
  • Drain or fill any low places, such as potholes, on your property where water collects and stands for more than five to seven days.
  • Make sure that all permanent water containers such as wells, septic tanks, cisterns, water tanks and cesspools are tightly covered and insect-proof.
  • Fix leaky pipes and outdoor faucets.
  • Cover trash containers/garbage cans to keep rainwater from accumulating.
  • Keep boats and canoes drained and covered/overturned.
  • Drain or get rid of old tires by recycling them.
  • Pack tree holes and hollow stumps with sand or cement.

Avoid mosquito bites and possible exposure to mosquito-borne illnesses.

  • Apply EPA-approved insect repellent to protect you during time spent outdoors.
  • Repair damaged or broken doors and screens.
  • Wear light-colored clothes with long sleeves and long pants.
  • Close garage doors at night.

If you have mosquito problems in your area, visit DHEC’s mosquito information page and click on “Local Mosquito Control” in the menu box for a list of local mosquito control agency contacts.

Learn more about eliminating mosquito breeding sites and preventing mosquito bites at the DHEC website.


DHEC Encourages Disposal of Unused Prescription Drugs through Take-Back Programs

Saturday, October 22, marks the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Held twice a year, this national observance aims to provide a safe, convenient and responsible way to dispose of prescription drugs, while educating the public about the potential for abuse of medication.

In South Carolina, 102 prescriptions for painkillers are now written for every 100 residentsIn 2015, there were 570 accidental prescription drug overdose deaths in the state.

To help address this problem, DHEC is working with health care providers and pharmacists across the state to identify and stop prescription drug abuse. DHEC’s Bureau of Drug Control is charged with administering the South Carolina prescription monitoring program.  The centralized database, known as the South Carolina Reporting and Identification Prescription Tracking System (SCRIPTS), allows authorized users access to controlled substance dispensing data, helping to make it easier for South Carolina doctors and pharmacists to identify and report potential prescription drug abuse.

The intent of the database is to improve the state’s ability to identify and stop the diversion of prescription drugs in an efficient and cost-effective manner while not hindering the appropriate medical use of illicit controlled substances where there is a valid prescriber-patient or pharmacist-patient relationship.

Make use of take-back programs

DHEC encourages the disposal of unused household medications through take-back programs, as well as drop-off collection boxes, as a way to effectively serve and protect the citizens of South Carolina.

The take-back programs help reduce childhood overdoses, restrict household drug theft, limit the accumulation of drugs by the elderly, protect our physical environment, reduce pharmaceutical contamination of fresh water, and eliminate waste.

Also, research indicates that patients often do not take prescribed medications as directed, if at all. Thus, many unused medications are diverted, abused, and misused and could potentially lead to a major cause of accidental poisonings and arrests. The South Carolina law enforcement community has seen arrest rates for prescription drug-related offenses rise in the past several years.

Helping to protect our environment

In addition, after being flushed or poured down a drain, many medicines pass through sewer and septic systems. Because these systems cannot always treat or remove the medicines, they may end up in streams, lakes and groundwater. This can cause adverse effects in fish and other aquatic wildlife as well as unintentional human exposure to chemicals in the medications.

Keeping prescription and over-the-counter medicines out of the environment is an important way to prevent pollution. Drug disposal programs and events like drug take-back days provide a safe alternative to disposing unwanted or old medications.

Find out where to go 

To locate a collection site nearest you, click here.


National Health Education Week

By Lillie M. Hall, MPH, MHS, CHES
Upstate Community System Director

This is National Health Education Week (NHEW), when we celebrate the work of health education specialists and their key role in promoting prevention, wellness and disease management.

Since 1995, NHEW — sponsored by the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) — has been celebrated during the third full week of October. The annual celebration focuses national attention on a major public health issue and enhances consumers’ understanding of the role of health education in promoting the public’s health. This year’s NHEW pays tribute to Partnerships to Build Community Health.

Celebrating health education specialists

We at DHEC honor the work of health education specialists and acknowledge and appreciate partnerships that help to build community health.

We are fortunate to have great health education specialists, better known as community system directors and their community teams, who work tirelessly at the individual, group, institutional, community and system levels to improve health knowledge, attitudes and skills in an effort to change or encourage behaviors that result in optimal health status.

DHEC’s community system directors — shown below from left to right — are Lillie M. Hall (Upstate), Suzette McClellan (Pee Dee), Suzanne Sanders (Midlands) and Felicia Veasey (Lowcountry).

l-hall-2013-3     suzettemcclellan-8-22-2016-2     s-sanders-12-2015-2     felicia-veasey-csd-3

Building partnerships is pivotal

DHEC cannot promote and protect the health of the public and the environment alone. That’s where our community system directors and their teams come in: They are charged with developing or enhancing and maintaining sustainable partnerships that help us comply with our mission.

It takes years to build trust and develop rapport in communities across the state. But when great collaborations exist, ongoing and meaningful work takes places to promote healthier eating, active living and the removal of risk factors for chronic and communicable disease.  Please take a moment to visit the websites of a few of our great community partners across the state to learn of their positive contributions to the public’s health.

Upstate Community Health Partnerships

Pee Dee Community Partnerships

Midlands Community Partnerships

Low Country Community Partnerships

Please take time to thank your community team member for leading your region’s efforts toward healthier communities.




Lowcountry dentist receives special recognition

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADr. John Patrick Howard, the Director of Dental Services at Our Lady of Mercy Outreach Center on John’s Island, South Carolina, was recognized as the recipient of the 2016 Carlos Salinas award.  Dr. Howard received the award and special recognition at the Medical University of South Carolina’s Annual Continuing Education Course on “Dental Program for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Individuals with Special Health Care Needs” held on September 30, 2016. He was presented with an award and his name will be placed on a perpetual plaque displayed at the MUSC College of Dental Medicine.

“The South Carolina Dental Association, South Carolina Oral Health Coalition and Advisory Council, and Specialized Care Company established this award in 2008 to honor a dentist for excellence in providing care to and advocacy for individuals with special health care needs,” said Dr. Ray Lala, the Director of DHEC’s Division of Oral Health. “Dr. Howard has been the Dental Director at Our Lady of Mercy Outreach Center since its inception and over the span of his career has provided compassionate care for underserved and special needs populations.”

The award, in its ninth year, is named for Carlos Salinas, DMD, in recognition of his lifetime commitment to patients with special needs. Dr. Salinas was a professor and director of the Medical University of South Carolina’s (MUSC) Division of Craniofacial Genetics, Department of Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics, and director of MUSC’s Craniofacial Anomalies and Cleft Lip and Palate Team. He was with the College of Dental Medicine for 35 years before his passing in 2015.