WSB TV reports more than 300 have been hospitalized with the flu statewide with five people have died from flu-related illnesses since the Georgia Department of Public Health began its 2017-2018 flu surveillance in the first week of October, according to department officials. The five people who died were all older and at least three had underlying medical conditions — including a Bartow County woman, the agency reports. Last year, there were nine flu-related deaths, the previous year there were seven and three years ago, there were 28, according to an agency spokeswoman. Expanded report
12:30 p.m. update: Darlington School has rescheduled their weekend RUMPUS events because of a number of flu cases on campus. Events will be rescheduled over the next month.
As the state’s flu activity reaches ‘widespread’ level, the Department of Public Health reports a total of five flu-related deaths in Georgia (as of Friday afternoon). One of those deaths includes an elderly Bartow County resident with underlying health conditions.
“To clarify, the state earlier announced there have been at least four flu-related deaths in Georgia. But we’ve received word of a fifth, this one an elderly Bartow County resident with underlying health conditions,” says Logan Boss with NWGA Public Health. “This makes the state total currently five, and we expect that number to increase.”
Just in the last 12 days, Redmond Regional Medical Center reports nearly 200 patients have been tested for influenza with 20% positive for the flu.
“Since January 1st, Redmond has tested nearly 200 patients for influenza. Of those patients tested, approximately 20% have tested positive for the flu. This is an increase from December of 274 total patients tested and 9.5% positive results for the flu. Our team is committed to caring for our community and is working hard to meet the needs of all of our patients,” says Andrea Pitts with Redmond.
Floyd Medical Center confirmed 154 cases of the flu in December; from Jan. 1-11, the hospital confirmed 173 cases. Harbin Clinic’s Immediate Care reports it has seen “flu cases rising (in) the past two weeks.”
All local hospitals including Floyd, Redmond, Polk Medical Center, Cartersville Medical Center and Gordon Hospital have restricted visitation because of flu outbreak. Restrictions include no visitors under 13, no visitors with flu-like symptoms and only family and other “designated specific guests” allowed. (see previous story below).
As for the schools, Floyd County Schools reported no increase in flu cases through Friday afternoon. Rome City Schools’ Superintendent Louis Byars says absentee numbers for both students and teachers are “up slightly”, but have not seen any large increases this week when compared to last week.
From Logan Boss of Public Health:
“Based on our monitoring of influenza-like illnesses, flu activity in Georgia is widespread. Widespread means we’re seeing flu throughout the state as opposed to just seeing pockets of flu in areas or locations in the state. Its intensity is high – 10 on a 1-to-10 scale. These numbers are typical for this time of year, especially coming off the holidays where people are crowded together indoors.
“We never know how to characterize a flu season until we’re looking at it in the rear-view mirror but it may be we’re seeing an earlier peak this year. Flu season in Georgia typically peaks in February. However, flu is highly unpredictable and we could be looking at more flu to come.
Boss added that five Georgians have died from the flu this season including an elderly Bartow County resident with underlying medical conditions.
“The predominate strain we’re seeing, H3N2, is an A strain that can be particularly tough for the very young and the elderly and typically results in increased hospitalizations and deaths.
“There are reports around the country of Tamiflu (antiviral) shortages, but that has not been an issue in Georgia. This season’s flu vaccine is likely to be less effective than in previous years but it’s still the best protection against the flu. Even if you get sick, it will help minimize symptoms and shorten the duration.
“It is not too late to get a flu shot this flu season and get the protection it brings. Children are highly vulnerable to influenza, and studies show that a shot can significantly reduce their risk of dying. High-dose vaccines are recommended for older people, who also are exceptionally vulnerable to illness, hospitalization, and death related to flu.
“It’s very important for people who have flu symptoms to see a doctor if they have a chronic medical condition like diabetes or heart disease or if they are young or elderly. Don’t mistake flu symptoms for those of a common cold. The hallmarks of flu are fever and body aches that accompany cough and congestion.
Perhaps the best way to map the flu season it to look at the calendar for any local school system — that is August to May. That’s the time frame shared by Janet Eberhart, immunizations coordinator for the Northwest Health District, in a December released that was tied to National Influenza Vaccination Week (Dec. 3-9).
That timing was critical as it gave Georgians a chance to get a flu shot, allow the required two-week “gestation” period and then hopefully ward off any germs spread over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
“It’s important that Georgians understand the best way to protect against influenza is to receive an annual flu vaccine. As long as the virus is circulating, it’s never too late to vaccinate,” Eberhart said at the time.
Here we are, 12 days into the new year, and we’re seeing “high” levels of flu outbreaks from South Carolina to California with the Midwest states in the grip as well. (see above map).
Locally, we’ve see the first of some advanced moves to hopefully stem the soaring number of flu cases.
Thursday evening, Floyd Medical Center and Polk Medical Center announced they’re restricting visitors because of a rapid increase in flu cases. The measures were taken to “protect patients, members of the public and hospital staff,” according to Floyd’s statement, adding, “The flu can cause serious complications and even death, especially in the very young, the elderly and those with certain existing medical conditions.”
The restrictions include:
- No visitors other than immediate family members or other people approved by the patient
- No visitors younger than 13
- No visitors with flu-like symptoms, which include cough, sore throat, fever, chills, aches, runny or stuffy nose and vomiting or diarrhea
Visitors are encouraged to wash their hands frequently while in the hospital and wear protective face masks when instructed. Exceptions to these restrictions may be made for cases involving critically ill patients and end-of-life situations.
One reason for the restrictions: Floyd Medical Center confirmed 154 cases of the flu in December; from Jan. 1-11, the hospital confirmed 173 cases.
Flu cases are “definitely impacting” Redmond Regional Medical Center as well, spokeswoman Andrea Pitts says. We’ll have a closer look at those numbers later today.
Redmond late Thursday also adopted a visitor restriction policy. Per Facebook: “Due to the increase in influenza cases both nationwide and in the Rome-Floyd County area, Redmond Regional Medical Center will be restricting visitors who are experiencing flu-like symptoms from visiting patients. This request is being made in an effort to protect patients, families, and hospital staff from the spread of the flu. We appreciate the community’s understanding and support.
For now, Redmond is banning visitors with flu-like symptoms and those under the age 13. Only immediate family and “significant persons as defined by the patient” will be allowed in. (Click Facebook)
Cartersville Medical Center announces visitation restriction: “Cartersville Medical Center will be restricting visitors who are experiencing flu-like symptoms from visiting patients. This request is being made in an effort to protect patients, families, and hospital staff from the spread of the flu.”
Gordon Hospital in Calhoun is the latest local hospital to restrict visitation because of the flu outbreak. No visitors under 13, no visitors with flu-like symptoms and only family and other “designated specific guests” allowed.
On Tuesday, Navicent Health hospitals in South Georgia adopted a similar policy, according to The Macon Telegraph.
In a media release, Floyd offered some guidance on what to do if you think you’ve come down with the flu:
With a highly contagious flu strain spreading, physicians at Floyd are urging patients to visit their primary care doctor or nearest Floyd Urgent Care rather than going to the emergency room (ER).
“If you think you have the flu, the best action to take is to visit your primary care doctor or an urgent care office as soon as possible,” said Dr. Robert Holcombe Jr., Medical Director, Floyd Urgent Care.
Primary Care and Urgent Care physicians are equipped to diagnose and treat the flu, are quicker and less expensive than a trip to the ER, and by diagnosing the flu early, your doctor’s office can prescribe antiviral medication that may help shorten the severity and length of your symptoms.
Common flu symptoms can be severe and appear suddenly:
- High fever
- Severe aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
The flu usually lasts seven to 10 days. Most people are contagious before they show any symptoms and until 24 hours after they last have a fever.
Five Tips to Prevent the Flu
Dr. Holcombe offers these tips to help prevent the flu:
- Wash hands often. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. This is especially important after using the restroom, before preparing food, after being in public areas and before and after caring for a sick person.
- Stay home from work or school with any flu-like symptoms. The CDC recommends that you stay at home for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone, except to get medical care. This fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
- Cover coughs or sneezes. Cough into the bend of the elbow, and cover your nose when you sneeze. If you use tissues, throw them away immediately – and then wash your hands.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Touching any of these areas moves germs from the hands into the body.
- Get a flu vaccine. The flu virus will continue to circulate for weeks, so it’s not too late to get the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for everyone over the age of 6 months. This vaccine can help prevent the flu or lessen its severity. Floyd Primary Care offices and Floyd Urgent Care offices have vaccines available.
When to Go to the Emergency Room
The severity of the flu varies with each person, according to Dr. Holcombe. Those experiencing any of the following should go to the nearest hospital ER:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty waking up
- Chest pain or pressure
- Persistent, severe vomiting