Twenty-three deaths in South Carolina due to influenza, commonly called the flu, have been reported, as of Jan. 18, according to Columbia's WISTV.

As of Jan. 11, two of those deaths were in Aiken County.

Lately, though, the numbers have shown promising signs. A little over 2 percent of patients had “influenza-like illnesses” the first week of January, compared to the nearly 6 percent the week before, according to The State newspaper.

Those hospitalized with lab-confirmed flu in early January fell from 229 to 198.

However, only one death was reported in the state last flu season, according to WISTV.

The best way to prevent getting the flu is getting the flu shot, although you can wash your hands with alcohol-based products like hand sanitizer, according to Dr. Gerald Gordon, Aiken Regional Medical Centers internal medicine associate.

“While this year's flu shot will prevent 60 percent or more people from getting the flu, if a person has a flu shot and that person gets the flu, the disease symptoms that person may get are much more mild,” he said.

The flu generally starts off with a sore throat and a low-grade fever. That fever rises over a few days, hitting 102 degrees or higher. Coughing, headaches, runny noses and muscle aches usually come along with it.

The flu lasts for around a week, hitting the height of its severity by day three or four, according to Gordon.

It is more severe than the common cold.

The cold is marked with a scratchy throat, runny nose, cough and headache.

“Illness due to influenza results in severe prostration and the possibility of contracting a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection generally within two to seven days after developing symptomatic influenza,” Gordon said.

Medicines are available to help aid colds and the flu. It is often recommended to consult a doctor on the best option.

“Physicians may also have difficulty in making a diagnosis of influenza early in the course of an infection, and often the tests used in offices may be falsely negative in a person who may have influenza,” Gordon said.

This year, the flu season started early, as it normally peaks in February, the Aiken Standard reported earlier this month.

The last time this happened was in 2003.