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'Literally gasping for air' | Doctors, parents on high alert with flu season

South Carolina is one of four states experiencing the highest level of flu activity currently.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Flu activity continues to pick up across the country, and South Carolina is one of four states experiencing the highest spread, new data from the CDC shows. 

North Carolina is also seeing high flu activity, with doctors' offices being swamped with patients. The biggest rise in cases has been in school-aged children, health experts say. 

“A lot of the kids who are coming in are saying, 'we had 10 kids out in my class today,' things like that,” Dr. Rhonda Patt with Atrium Health said.

Rock Hill Schools sent a letter home to parents last week, saying it's working closely with South Carolina health officials to monitor flu conditions in its schools and asked them to be aware of the symptoms and keep their kids home if they’re not feeling well.

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Doctors’ offices are also asking parents to treat their sick children at home if they’re otherwise healthy and feeling somewhat better in between fever spikes.

“The things that would lead to us encouraging a family to come in would be the very young children, particularly under the age of 2, specifically under the age of 6 months with high fevers,” Patt said. “If the child is lethargic, isn’t able to eat or drink very well, or if they see any signs the child is having a hard time breathing.”

Patt said families should come in for a visit if a sick child gets better and then spikes another fever or starts having other symptoms.

“With the flu, there’s a risk for secondary infection, meaning ear infections or pneumonia or things that would need antibiotics,” she said,

The respiratory viruses that are currently spreading can be especially dangerous for very young babies or otherwise immunocompromised kids, and they can end up in the hospital.

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14-month-old Amelia is now home and smiling. Her family and team of doctors never gave up as she fought a severe case of rhinovirus last month.

It started with typical symptoms.

“She was working harder to breathe. High, high fever, the cough, congestion, and definitely fatigue,” Megan Culp, her mom said.

Amelia has spinal muscular atrophy and received a gene therapy infusion earlier this year. She’s immunocompromised, and after getting rhinovirus, her situation quickly took a turn.

“I heard her grunting, and I took her out of the car seat and she was literally gasping for air,” Culp said. “Oxygen was super low. It was bad. We rushed her in there they called a rapid response and three hours later she was on a ventilator.”

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Hospitals in the Carolinas are feeling the strain, many nearing capacity.

Doctors urging people to stay up to date on the flu shot, wash their hands often and stay home when sick.

For Amelia and her family, staying home and away from others is the only option as she continues to recover.

“Rhinovirus is just a cold for us but to her, it’s not. There’s no such thing as a simple cold,” Culp said.

People with the flu are typically contagious for the first three to five days of symptoms. Doctors say this year’s flu shot appears to be effective and that people who have already had the flu should still get the shot.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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