COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced Wednesday the state’s first flu-related death of the season.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said a person living in the Midlands region died from complications of the flu. The death marks South Carolina’s first confirmed influenza-associated death just before the official start of the season on October 1.

“Although we are just entering the flu season, this is a sober reminder to us all that the flu is already here and that it can be deadly. Sadly, we see many deaths, hospitalizations, and other serious complications of flu each year in our state,” said Dr. Bell, who also serves as DHEC’s Director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control. “The best way to prevent the flu is to get your shot early.”

State health officials recommend everyone six months of age and older get vaccinated against influenza, especially those who are at an increased risk of complications from the virus, including young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older, and those with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart or lung disease.

Officials say it is important to get vaccinated as early as possible to be protected against the virus, as it takes about two weeks for the body’s immune system to respond for full protection.

“We can’t predict what this season will bring, but we are preparing for significant activity not only from the flu, but respiratory illnesses in general, to include COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s director of Public Health. “Just like with the flu, being vaccinated is the best protection against severe illness from COVID-19 or RSV. People should talk with their health care provider to evaluate the risks and benefits of vaccination for them.”

While health officials say the flu can circulate any time of year, the flu season begins October 1st for surveillance purposes.