South Carolina health officials say the flu has arrived earlier than usual and is spreading fast.

The potentially deadly virus has claimed seven Palmetto State residents’ lives since Sept. 30. The state had only one flu-related death during last year’s flu season.

The state’s number of flu cases shot up dramatically in the most recent count, with 8,459 cases in one week. That’s more than half of the 14,381 total reports for this entire flu season,.

“The best protection is to avoid guessing what’s going to happen and get the flu vaccine to prevent it,” said Dr. Linda Bell, acting epidemiologist for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Read more in tomorrow’s Post and Courier.