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Influenza slams Georgia

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Reports of influenza cases are on the rise in Georgia. Photo Credit Shutterstock

 

 

According to the latest stats released by the Georgia Department of Public Health, the occurrence of influenza is high and it is widespread throughout the state. During the second week of January, there were 40 hospitalizations and 404 for the entire season which began October 1. To date this season, there have been 12 confirmed deaths. In the 2016-2017 flu season in Georgia, influenza was a regional, as compared to state, occurrence. There were only 24 hospitalizations and no confirmed deaths compared to the current season.

Nationally, the CDC reports the US is on pace for the worst flu season in 15 years. All states except Hawaii, are reporting widespread flu activity. Thirty-two states, New York City and Puerto Rico report high activity. Since influenza is not a reportable disease and not everyone with the illness seeks treatment, the CDC estimates influenza statistics. Since 2010, the CDC estimates that between 9.2 and 35.6 million cases occur each year. In the same time period, between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations occur annually. The CDC estimates influenza-related deaths ranged from a low of 12,000 (2011-2012) to a high of 56,000 (2012-2013).

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During the 1918 pandemic, vast wards were filled with flu patients. Photo credit Shutterstock

How does this year compare with others? The Spanish flu pandemic (wide-spread with a high incidence in the population) killed approximately 50 million people world-wide in three separate waves which originated in Europe, Asia, and North America. It is estimated that as many as one-third of the world population contracted flu which infected both humans and swine. The death rates were significantly higher in young people. Influenza patients who developed pneumonia were especially likely to succumb. Except for the avian-based flu, all other strains are descended from the 1918 virus. The nature of the strain is not well understood and continues to be studied to prevent or treat additional outbreaks.

Influenza is a viral illness with symptoms including fever, sore throat, muscle aches, and cough. Influenza can weaken the immune system leading to complications and worsen chronic health problems. Young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic conditions are more likely to develop complications. While deaths are most likely to occur in the elderly and those with chronic conditions, young adults and children are also susceptible.

Anyone can contract influenza. The virus spreads from coughs or sneezes, but can survive on surfaces for hours. Hands can transfer the virus to the mouth or nose. Unfortunately, the virus can be passed to others before an infected person feels symptoms. Influenza symptoms generally last one to two weeks. Since virus strains that cause the flu change every year, there is no immunity after infection.

The CDC recommends a “flu shot” annually, preferably at the beginning of the season in October. The flu vaccine is readily available at public health departments, doctors’ offices and drug stores. Each year, the vaccine is tailored to the strains of influenza the CDC anticipates will be prevalent. Flu shots contain strains of the dead virus and the nasal spray contains weakened strains. For 2017- 2018, the CDC does not recommend the nasal spray. Anyone over 6 months of age who is not allergic to chicken eggs, did not contract Guillain-Barré syndrome within 6 weeks of having an influenza vaccine, and does not have a fever can have the immunization.

Along with the vaccine, frequent handwashing prevents the spread of the virus, especially before touching eyes or nose. Covering the mouth with a sneeze or cough with a tissue or coughing into the sleeve prevents the spread of the virus also.

To treat influenza, it’s important to rest, drink plenty of caffeine-free liquids to avoid dehydration, and avoid alcohol and tobacco. Medication recommendations include a non-aspirin pain reliever for fever and an antiviral medication. The antiviral medications Tamiflu® and Relenza® require a prescription and are most effective if taken within 48 hours of getting symptoms. Stay home to avoid spreading the flu to others.

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