As the cold is settling in to Georgia, so is the flu. The state is reporting widespread flu activity for the first time in the 2013-2014 flu season, including more than 400 hospitalizations and nine confirmed flu-related deaths.
Georgia is not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that flu activity increased by 23 percent across Southeastern states as the new year began.
The increase is not uncommon for this time of year. Flu season typically picks up steam in January and runs through late February or early March. What makes this flu season unique is that the virus seems to be hitting the hardest for a different age group: young adults.
Flu typically affects children and older adults the most, but this year, states are reporting that more young and middle-aged adults are falling ill with severe respiratory illness associated with the flu.
“While most of these people with severe illness have had risk factors for influenza-associated complications, including pregnancy and morbid obesity, several have not,” said Cherie Drenzek, D.V.M., state epidemiologist for the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH).
The predominant strain of the flu virus currently circulating is H1N1, the influenza A strain that caused a pandemic in 2009. However, that strain is included in this season’s flu vaccine, along with the influenza A (H3N2) virus and influenza B viruses. DPH wants to remind all Georgians that the flu vaccine is the best way to protect against the flu.
“Anyone 6 months and older who has not gotten a flu vaccine yet this season should get one now,” Drenzek said.
Georgians can get a flu shot from local health departments, health care providers or at pharmacies around the state. But Drenzek noted that antiviral therapy is also an important second line of defense for those who become ill.
Any patient with confirmed or suspected influenza can take antiviral drugs to reduce the risk of serious illness and death, especially those who are hospitalized; have severe, complicated, or progressive illness; or are at higher risk for influenza complications. The treatments have been shown to reduce the duration of illness and hospitalizations and to lower the risk of flu-related complications.
In addition to the flu vaccine, there are steps people can take to protect themselves and others from getting the flu:
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands.
- Avoid people who are sick.
- If you experience flu-like symptoms – cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, fever, body aches or fatigue – stay home to prevent spreading the virus to others.