This Year’s Flu Season Came Early and Hit Hard

It starts with chills pulsating throughout the body, accompanied by a hot forehead, sore throat and running nose. The body feels aches comparable to those incurred from being tackled by the University of Georgia’s entire defensive line. The only hope left is to sink into bed with no intention of returning to reality, but sleep is forbidden by a steady stream of coughing fits and one is left utterly miserable.

It is flu season and the symptoms above are those most commonly related to influenza virus.

This year’s flu season came early and swept the nation, claiming lives and sending a large number of people to the hospital. In Georgia similar levels of elevated flu activity occurred throughout the state, particularly local influenza activity.

According to a statement from the Georgia Department of Health, “Influenza (flu) is hitting Georgia harder this season than at any time in the past 10 years.”

Patrick O’Neal, M.D., the director of the Division of Health Protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health said, in a press release in January, that flu activity in Georgia reached “epidemic levels” this flu season.

So far this flu season, Georgia reported four flu-related deaths. Including one flu-related death in the Athens area, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The Center of Disease Control, CDC, reported a total of 59 flu-related pediatric deaths this flu season, as of February 2nd, nearly double the total flu-related pediatric deaths that occurred during the 2011-2012 flu season. The total number flu-related deaths among adults were not reported.

February brought lower levels of flu than early flu season, but the CDC reports that influenza activity remains elevated across the country.

Georgia’s peak weeks of flu activity matched the national trend, with the highest levels of flu reported the last two weeks of December through the first two weeks of January.

“It’s likely that the worst of the current flu season is over,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told the Associated Press. The Georgia Department of Public Health still warns that, “given the early and intense start of this flu season, it could last longer this year,” according to a statement on their website.

Flu season last from late November through March so there remains time for a second surge of flu this season.

Lynn Beckmann, Northeast Georgia’s Public Health Department’s infectious disease coordinator said in an email, “I can tell you, anecdotally, that I was getting reports rather early this year, even as early as mid Sept., that [flu] cases were being seen in the community.”

The Athens Banner Herald reported early in January that local hospitals, St. Mary’s Healthcare and Athens Regional Medical center, “have collectively tested more than 4,000 people for flu and nearly 20 percent of those tests came back as positive.”

The best defense against the flu is to get a yearly vaccine, according to the CDC.

Emily Cox a third year student at the University of Georgia who lives in Athens described her experience receiving the flu shoot,“I got my shot at Kroger, I just went in to the pharmacy area and asked if I could get a flu shot and they were like sure.” Cox said she was encouraged by her mom to get a flu shot but she thinks it is very important to get a flu shot every year. Cox got her flu shot in November of 2012 and said she has not gotten the flu this flu season.

“The flu vaccine is safe and effective, although probably not as effective as we once thought in the elderly due to a decreased immune response,” said Mark Ebell, an associate professor of Epidemiology at the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health.

Athens physicians’ offices, the Public Health Department and local drug stores administer vaccines locally.

Jim Stowe, a local pharmacist, works at Horton’s Drugstore in the HealthMart Pharmacy located in downtown Athens. When asked about flu vaccinations administered by Horton’s Drugstore this year, Stowe said he saw trends similar to statewide reports.

“Once we had that first little surge, particularly out west of [flu]cases showing up, it became where everyone was like I have been putting it [getting a flu shot] off long enough,” said Stowe about the Athens’ residents’ response to national reports of elevated levels of flu this season.

Horton’s Pharmacy worked with local banks and parishes, to put on health days that provided vaccines to a large number of people at one time.

“It’s been kind of one of those things where you just try to find out where the need is and just get folks together so you can try to do it all at one time,” said Stowe about vaccinations in the Athens community. “You definitely also have people walk in the door who say they want to get their shot.”

In regards to getting vaccinated Stowe advised, “It’s a personal decision for everybody.” A person’s decision to get vaccinated depends on, “contact and your personal history, some people are more susceptible due to preexisting conditions, to age limitations, to exposure to these particular strains in previous years that don’t have any immunity to that one.”

Horton’s Drugstore is still administering this year’s flu vaccine and has a prescribing physician on staff that administers the flu shots.

Each flu season is different and the severity of the virus is unpredictable. The CDC estimates that anywhere from 5% to 20% of U.S. residents contract the flu each year.

The flu vaccine is the most effective method in preventing the flu, and those who have not received this year’s flu vaccine should take extra precautions to protect themselves and prevent the spread of flu.

Suggested methods of prevention include, hand-washing, avoiding touching the face and mouth, covering one’s mouth to sneeze or cough and avoiding those infected with the flu.

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