Flu activity remains widespread, but there are signs this brutal flu season may beginning to wane.
As of the week ending Feb. 17, the Georgia Department of Public Health said 11.9 percent of patient visits to doctors were for the flu, down from 15.2 percent of patient visits the week before.
The number of new flu-related hospitalizations reported added up to 91, down from 165 during the previous week.
But the season is far from over. And the intensity of the flu season continues to take its toll.
Georgia’s death toll from flu this season now stands at 98, a figure which includes four children, according to the latest report.
Earlier this week, Dr. James Steinberg, chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta, called this flu season,“the worst season I can recall.” He’s been the chief medical officer there for 12 years and an infectious disease specialist for the past three decades.
“Worst season in terms of burden of illness, overall volume and the total volume causing major stress in the emergency room, in-patient services and in critical care units,” he said.
For the first time, Grady Memorial Hospital set up a mobile emergency department outside to help handle flu patients.
The total number of flu-related hospitalizations in metro Atlanta now stands at 2,034.
The total hospitalizations in metro Atlanta this season is far more than the totals during recent years and even dwarfs the 2014-2015 season, which was considered another severe flu season. The total number of hospitalizations in metro Atlanta during the 2014-2015 season climbed to 1,460 for the entire season ending in May.
Health officials are urging people who have not been vaccinated to do so. The request came with greater emphasis when late last week they learned that data showed the flu vaccine this year was somewhat more effective than previously thought.
This season, the predominant flu strain is H3N2, a form of influenza A. This flu strain is associated with more severe illness, especially among children and the elderly. This strain is included in this year’s flu vaccine, but viruses can change and this particular strain tends to mutate more than other strains.
Experts say even if the vaccine is not a perfect match, the vaccine can still help lessen the severity of the flu, and reduce the chance of experiencing severe complications from the flu. Getting a vaccine can also reduce the length of the flu if you do get sick.
While the number of H3N2 cases may be starting to dip, Steinberg and other doctors said they are also seeing an uptick of the influenza B strain. The flu vaccine is believed to provide greater protection against influenza B.
“It’s not too late to get the vaccine, that’s definitely the first thing I would tell people,” said Steinberg.
Dr. Cherie Drenzek, Georgia’s state epidemiologist, said if you do get sick and think you may have the flu, contact your health care provider right away, particularly if you or family members are at high risk for serious flu complications — young children (under the age of 5), those over 65, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes or asthma. Even young, healthy adults should call their doctor if symptoms don’t improve or get worse after three to four days of illness. There are antivirals such as Tamiflu or Relenza that can help reduce the duration of flu symptoms but the medication needs to be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to be most effective.
SYMPTOMS OF A FLU EMERGENCY
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency warning signs for people to go to the ER include:
Flu-like symptoms that improve but return with fever and a worse cough
Cough into the inside of your elbow, not the open air
Get a flu shot (everyone 6 months of age and older)
Avoid infected people if possible
Wash hands frequently
Ariel Hart contributed to this article
Click this link to check out the wait times: https://hospitals.myajc.com/
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.