Is getting the flu related to obesity?

A Grand Strand doctor says more people are getting sick with the flu virus because more people are becoming unhealthy.

With South Carolina's obesity rate at more than 31 percent and growing, Department of Health and Environmental Control Regional Health Director Doctor Covia Stanley said that puts many more at risk.

"People who have chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and all those other things they are the ones who really need be assertive to get the flu vaccine," said Dr. Stanley. "When you reduce diabetes, hypertension and all that, the flu cannot get into the system as easily."

DHEC announced the first flu associated death of the year in South Carolina on Wednesday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 90 percent of flu associated deaths occur among adults 65 years and older.

"It's the flu virus that takes advantage of opportunity of folks being less healthy," said Dr. Stanley. "They do not have the white blood cells or the plasma cells or the antibodies to fight off the infection."

DHEC officials say the flu is "widespread" this year. Stanley believes that's because fewer people are getting flu shots and more people are becoming obese which leads to other diseases that weaken the immune system.

"The key word is prevention, prevention, prevention," said Dr. Stanley. "Obesity can be prevented, and the flu can be prevented."

Dr. Stanley also said we shouldn't panic because there's been a flu death in South Carolina, but we should be motivated to get vaccinated.

Also for all those who say they got sick from the flu shot, Dr. Stanley said it's not possible.

You either weren't protected yet or got a different strain of flu, he said.

It also takes two weeks for the flu shot to fully protect you.