Health officials said Friday the flu is hitting Georgia harder than it has in nearly a decade and remains at epidemic levels in the state.
“It does seem that there’s quite an increase in people showing up with flu-like symptoms in hospitals and health care facilities statewide. Certainly, in our district, we’re continuing to urge people to get the flu shot,” said Jennifer King, spokesperson for the North Georgia Health District.
As of Wednesday, the Cherokee County Health Department, part of the health district, had given 1,351 regular flu vaccines and 526 high-dose vaccines, a more potent vaccine typically used for senior citizens, so far this flu season. The clinics had 231 regular doses and 70 high-dose vaccines left as of Wednesday.
King said people who do contract the flu despite having a flu shot are less likely to suffer severe symptoms.
Flu shots are still available throughout the North Georgia Health District.
The Cherokee County Health Department has sites on Univeter Road in Canton and North Main Street in Woodstock.
Both sites are open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday.
The cost for a flu immunization is $20 for a regular dose and $52 for a high-dose vaccine.
Appointments are not required.
During the week ending Jan. 5, 4.3 percent of people seeking health care nationwide did so for influenza-like illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Georgia was one of 47 states reporting widespread flu activity for the week, an indicator of the geographic spread of the virus.
Georgia was one of 24 states reporting a high level of influenza-like illness activity, based on the percentage of outpatient health care seekers seeking treatment for influenza-like illness.
Two pediatric flu-related deaths were reported the week ending Jan. 5, bringing the national total of pediatric deaths to 20 for this flu season.
In Georgia, two adults have died this flu season from flu-related
While Georgia is seeing some decrease in flu activity, the state is still at epidemic level, according to public health officials.
“We are getting reports of more severe flu effects in neighboring states, including the number of deaths. Peak flu season typically does not happen until late January or early February, so we may not have seen the worst yet,” said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of the Division of Health Protection of the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Good hygiene practices, particularly frequent hand washing and not touching one’s face or mouth, are important for preventing the flu.
“That’s one of the major ways the flu virus is able to get inside the body,” King said.
In Cherokee County schools, nurses and teachers are working to spread that message to students.
“We’re always enforcing hand washing and not attending school when you’re sick. And not coming back until you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours,” Cherokee County School District Lead Nurse Gwen Chambers said.
Avoiding people who appear to be sick can also help keep flu at bay, King said.
And anyone — adult or child — who comes down with the flu is urged to isolate himself.
“It’s very important to stay home until you no longer experience flu systems. That certainly includes having a fever. You should stay home until 24 hours have passed since your last fever, without the aid of medication,” King said.
People with flu should isolate themselves even from family members, King said. It’s especially important to stay away from young children, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system.
Chambers said more than 100 cases of flu had been confirmed in Cherokee County School District students before the winter break.
“It’s definitely affected us,” Chambers said.
Teachers and school staff are encouraged, but not required, to receive a flu shot.
The schools district offered flu shots to teachers and staff on-site in September through a partnership with CVS Pharmacy. Chambers said 959 school staffers received the on-site flu shots.
Schools do not offer flu shots to students.
Nurses track and report flu activity at their schools. Chambers said this year’s flu instances have been “widespread” among the various schools.