Officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health announced that there have now been at least 51 confirmed influenza-associated deaths in Georgia this flu season. Five of these 51 have been in the ten-county Northwest Health District – one each in Bartow, Paulding, and Polk counties and two in Floyd. The majority of the 51 deaths have been individuals 50 years of age or older. One was an individual less than 18 but older than 12.
Update from Georgia Health News: Georgia now has 51 confirmed flu-related deaths, up from 37 on Wednesday and 25 just a week ago.
The state Department of Public Health also reported Friday that there were 120 hospitalizations due to influenza infection in the eight-county metro Atlanta region during the week of Jan. 21 through Jan. 27.
Nationally, the CDC reported an additional 16 flu deaths among children, bringing the U.S. total to 53. Public Health has reported one pediatric death in Georgia, identified by media reports as a Newnan teenager.
“Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate flu activity is still high and widespread,” Schuchat said at a weekly briefing. The report is from data as of one week ago, the 10th week of this flu season.
“So far this year, the cumulative rate of hospitalizations is the highest since we’ve been tracking in this way, which goes back to 2010,’’ Schuchat said.
“This is a very difficult season,” she added.
The CDC also recorded an increase in the percentage of patients who visited medical providers complaining of influenza-like illness across the nation.
“We have not hit our peak yet, unfortunately,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said, according to CNN. “Really, the bottom line is, there is still likely many more weeks to go.”
Schuchat said there are hopeful signs in the latest flu report.
“For the second week in a row, there are signs that activity in the West may be easing up,” she said, according to CNN. “However, we are by no means out of the woods.”
Nationally, only about 20 percent of those children who died had been vaccinated, said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC’s influenza division, according to NPR. Even though this year’s vaccination is not very effective, health officials say it still offers some protection. And they say it’s not too late to get vaccinated.
Schuchat said parents should be especially concerned if their child has a high fever. In that case, parents should call their doctor to see whether a child needs to be seen or taken to an emergency room, NPR reported. “Worrisome signs are a very high persisting fever, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat or shallow rapid breathing, or significant tiredness or confusion.”
The predominant flu strain this season, H3N2, typically leads to more illnesses and deaths.
Dr. Patrick O’Neal, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said this week that Georgians should call ahead to a doctor’s office, pharmacy or Public Health to see if they have availability of vaccine. WABE reported that some pharmacies are running low on flu shots.
O’Neal said there are sporadic shortages of antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu for flu patients, but that “there’s not a statewide shortage.’’
Among other Public Health recommendations:
** Stay home from work or school if you’re sick, so you don’t spread the flu. Before returning to school or work, flu sufferers should be free of fever (without the use of a fever reducer) for at least 24 hours.
** If your doctor prescribes antivirals, take them.
** If you’re not sick, stay away from people who are.
** Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently to help guard against the flu. If soap and water are not accessible, the next best thing is to use alcohol-based sanitizing gels.
** Cover the 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 the elbow or arm.
** Avoid touching your face, as flu germs can get into the body through mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes.