“I didn’t get a flu shot.” said the 27-year-old audio engineer, who lives in Lithonia. “I’m nervous about needles.”
In Georgia, there have been 20,000 reported cases since the flu season started in October. This season’s reported cases are nearly four times more than last flu season.
Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of the state Division of Health Protection, said we may not have seen the worst yet.
“We are still at epidemic level and the flu is unpredictable,” O’Neal said.
The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this is the worst flu season in a decade, and that 47 states including Georgia reported widespread influenza activity for the week ending Jan. 5.
“Widespread” means more than 50 percent of geographic regions in a state – counties for example – are reporting flu activity.
At DeKalb Medical, ER doctors and nurses have been much busier than usual treating a wide range of ailments. Hospital spokeswoman Cheryl Iverson said there’s annecdotal evidence that the flu is a factor in the upswing in emergency cases.
“Of the 23 people tested by just one of our doctors here last week, 10 were positive,” said Iverson, the hospital’s vice opresident of business development and marketing.
Kaiser Permanente, which has three Medical Centers in DeKalb County, says it has been busy at their centers even though 75,000 members received flu vaccines in metro Atlanta this year.
Dr. Peggy Harris, Kaiser’s director of urgent care, said from the last two weeks of December through the first two weeks of January they saw three to four flu patients a day at Kaiser’s Panola Road center.
“It’s the busiest we’ve seen in the last five years,” she said.
The flu is so dangerous because it can lead to life-threatening complications such as pneumonia and congestive heart failure. Children and the elderly are especially at risk.
Flu statistics aren’t broken down by county, but in the eight-county metro Atlanta area, 56 people have been hospitalized with flu symptoms, much higher than normal according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“And we haven’t even hit peak season yet,” said Nancy Nydam, spokeswoman for the the Georgia Department of Public Health.
In Georgia, the season usually peaks at the end of January and carries over into February and March.
The CDC has reported 20 deaths of children under the age of 18 since the flu outbreak began. While the agency does not count the number of adult flu-related deaths, some states do and the data suggest there have been dozens of deaths.
With possibly the worst yet to come, public health officials said it’s not too late to get a flu shot, which is recommended for every healthy individual over the age of 6 months. The predominant strain of flu circulating in Georgia is the H3N2.
Back in the waiting room at DeKalb Medical, Tira Alexander, 25, of Lithonia wears a surgical mask for protection against the flu. Like other visitors to the ER, she chose not to get a flu shot this season.
“I got real sick the last time I got one, “ she said.
Health officials say the flu vaccine is made with a dead virus and can’t make you ill.
This year’s flu vaccine is a close match, making it effective in preventing the flu or minimizing its symptoms or duration. It typically takes 10 to 14 days for a healthy person to build up immunity after a shot, health experts said.
Health officials think it may take another two weeks to determine whether the flu season has peaked. The CDC said that there are signs that the flu rate may be slowing in Georgia and other southeastern states, but that the virus is unpredictable and is known to “ebb and flow.”
For more information about the flu epidemic, visit www.flu.gov.
The Georgia Department of Public Health recommends the following to keep yourself and those around you from getting sick:
-- Frequent and thorough hand washing with warm water and soap.
-- Use alcohol-based gels if you don’t have access to soap and water.
-- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or the crook of your elbow or arm when coughing or sneezing.
-- 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 work or school.
-- If you are caring for a sick individual at home, keep them away from other people as much as possible.
-- Keep the sick person away from common areas of the house.
-- If you have more than one bathroom, have the sick person use one and well people use the other.
-- Clean the sickroom and the bathroom once a day with household disinfectant.
-- No one should visit the sick person other than the caregiver.
-- Clean linens, eating utensils, and dishes used by the sick person thoroughly before reusing. You do not need to wash items separately.