More than 300 individuals have been hospitalized with flu-related illness in Georgia and the state Department of Public Health (DPH) has confirmed five flu-related deaths so far, the agency said in a release late last week. That number is expected to increase, according to the DPH.
The virus is spreading state-to-state and, in Georgia, its intensity was ranked 10 on a scale of 1 to 10.
WellStar locations saw a 10 percent increase in flu-like symptoms last week compared with the week before. Local doctors offices and urgent care centers have also reported greater numbers of patients visiting with flu-like symptoms in recent weeks.
The main flu strain circulating this season called influenza A (H3N2), The Telegraph in Macon reported. That particular strain, when widespread, has historically resulted in more hospitalizations and deaths reported in people at least 65 years old and younger children than compared to other age groups.
H3N2 is one of the strains contained in this year’s flu vaccine along with two or three others, depending on the vaccine, according to the The Telegraph.
J. Patrick O’Neal, M.D., DPH commissioner, said it's still not too late to get a flu shot. Local health officials are echoing that recommendation.
Karla Ayers, Douglasville Center supervisor for Cobb & Douglas Public Health, suggested not delaying further because it takes two weeks to build up the antibodies.
Ayers said the Douglas County Health Department on Selman Drive has plenty of flu vaccine available. Ayers said there is no live flu virus in flu shots, so they cannot cause individuals to contract the flu.
The health department takes all forms of insurance except Kaiser Permanente and does not charge a co-pay. The cost of a flu shot is $25, but adjustments can be made for those without insurance to get a flu shot.
Those who are not able to take a flu shot due to medical conditions should encourage those around them to get one. For those who think they’ve contracted the flu, she urges them to please stay home.
“If you get sick, please stay home,” Ayers stressed.
She said the flu is usually a sudden onset and to know for sure if it is the flu, see your doctor.
“There is medication that you can take,” Ayers said. “You need to start an anti-viral within 72 hours.”
She said the flu typically peaks in February, but seems to have peaked earlier this year. In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. The peak of flu season has occurred anywhere from late November through March.
According to Cobb & Douglas Public Health, flu season can begin as early as August and last all the way through May, so they recommend residents get their vaccine as early as possible.
The Douglas County School System reports that thus far they have not really had a problem with flu this season, according to Nancy McCready, lead health services coordinator for the school system.
She said only one school has had a few isolated cases of the flu this season.
McCready said, “This is due to the schools and school system of doing such a diligent job of stressing the importance of good health, hand washing and covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing. Additionally, teachers are able to model good hygiene habits and enforce this precaution, especially in the lower grades.
Flu symptoms and their intensity can vary from person to person, and can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. If you think you have the flu, call or visit your doctor, DPH recommends.
In some cases, healthcare providers may recommend the use of antivirals such as Tamiflu or Relenza. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid, an inhaled powder or an intravenous solution) that fight against the flu in your body. Antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within two days of getting sick. Antivirals are used to treat those at high-risk for flu complications — young children, the elderly, individuals with underlying medical conditions and women who are pregnant. Most otherwise-healthy people who get the flu, however, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.
There are other things you can do to help prevent the spread of flu – tried and true measures your mother taught you.
Frequent and thorough hand-washing with soap and warm water. Alcohol based gels are the next best thing if you don’t have access to soap and water.
Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing to help prevent the spread of the flu. Use a tissue or cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or arm.
Avoid touching your face as flu germs can get into the body through mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes.
If you are sick, stay home from school or work. Flu sufferers should be free of a fever, without the use of a fever reducer, for at least 24 hours before returning to school or work.
If you are caring for a sick individual at home, keep them away from common areas of the house and other people as much as possible. If you have more than one bathroom, have the sick person use one and well people use the other. Clean the sick room and the bathroom once a day with household disinfectant. Thoroughly clean linens, eating utensils, and dishes used by the sick person before reusing.
To learn more about influenza visit www.flu.gov.
For more information about flu shots from the Douglas Health Department, visit www.cobbanddouglaspublichealth.org or call 770-514-2300.
A press release from the Georgia Department of Public Health was used in this report.