Flu activity up in Georgia as health officials warn of potentially severe seasonFILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES. Photo by Dean Hesse.
BY Jess Mador | WABE
Georgia is seeing a high rate of influenza activity throughout the state so far this season.
As mask wearing, social distancing, remote learning and other COVID-19 mitigation strategies continue to ease, federal and state health officials are watching for a potential uptick in respiratory diseases, including the flu.
The American Medical Association and the Atlanta-based United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu vaccine for everyone age six months and up.
CDC health scientist Dr. Chastity Walker said it’s especially important for people of color to get their flu shots this year.
“And those groups are less likely to get flu vaccination. And so we really want folks to get a flu shot to reduce the need to go to the doctor or the emergency room and be hospitalized and, worst case scenario, die from the flu,” she said.
Between 2009 and 2022, CDC data show that Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native adults were hospitalized with the flu at higher rates than white adults, with Black adults being 80% more likely to be hospitalized.
Lack of access to health care and health insurance are major factors behind the disparity, according to a recent CDC report.
“When you have greater risks of being hospitalized, you’re also at greater risk of dying from the disease or having longterm sequelae,” said Walker. “But everyone who gets the flu is at risk of being hospitalized or dying from the flu.”
The CDC reports that people aged 65 years and older are at higher risk for serious complications from the flu. People with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems, children under age 2, pregnant and early postpartum women are also at higher risk.
Overall, the CDC estimates the flu has resulted in as many as 52,000 deaths annually in the U.S. between 2010 and 2020.
The state Department of Public Health reports nearly 40 influenza hospitalizations in Georgia for the week ending October 8, 2022, the most recent available data.
“The flu vaccine is extremely effective,” said Dr. Willie Underwood with the American Medical Association, “So the best thing to do at this point is to get vaccinated, protect yourself, protect your family, and protect your communities from the flu.”
To find a flu vaccine by location, search the Georgia Adult Immunization Coalition web site.
The Georgia Department of Public Health published the following press release urging people to get their flu vaccines:
ATLANTA – If you have not gotten a flu shot yet, do not wait any longer. Flu activity is already widespread in Georgia – earlier than we’ve seen in recent years.
“Every individual over the age of six months should get a flu vaccine – not just for their own protection, but to protect others around them who may be more vulnerable to the flu and its complications,” says Kathleen E. Toomey, M.D., M.P.H., DPH commissioner. “It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body, so now is the time to get a flu shot.”
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. Some people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, pregnant women, and children younger than 5 years, but especially those younger than 2 years old.
Flu vaccine is widely available at public health departments, doctors’ offices, grocery stores, neighborhood clinics and pharmacies. To find a location near you click on https://www.vaccines.gov/find-vaccines/. Flu vaccine can be administered at the same time as COVID vaccine, so it’s a good time to get your updated booster, too.
In some cases, healthcare providers may recommend the use of antiviral drugs that fight the flu in your body. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines and are most effective when taken within 48 hours of symptoms appearing.
There are other tried and true measures you can take to help prevent the spread of flu:
— Frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and warm water. Alcohol based gels are the next best thing if you don’t have access to soap and water.
— Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or arm to help prevent the spread of the flu.
— 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.
For more information about flu and how to prevent it, log on to dph.ga.gov/flu. You can monitor Georgia weekly influenza reports at https://dph.georgia.gov/flu-activity-georgia. The reports are updated on Fridays.
This story was provided by Decaturish content partner WABE.