Flu activity down for second week in row but still high in Georgia

In what could signal a gentler flu season this year, flu activity continued to decline for the second consecutive week in Georgia.

Flu activity is unpredictable, and the levels are still considered high in the state. The Georgia Department of Public Health said 4 percent of patient visits to doctors were for the flu during the week ending Jan. 12. But that's down from 5.5 percent of visits the week before, according to the most recent report released on Friday.

Georgia’s 2017-18 flu season didn’t subside until the end of April. It claimed 154 lives statewide and led to more than 3,000 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta. Local health officials called it the worst outbreak in decades. The previous year saw nine flu-related deaths in Georgia.

Since the flu season began in early October, the illness has killed six people in Georgia — five adults and a child — and there have been 737 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta due to flu symptoms.

After flu rates climbed upward before Christmas, they have been steadily dropping. Several school systems, including those in Cherokee, Clayton and DeKalb County, said they are not seeing an uptick in flu cases. Susan Hale, spokesperson for Fulton County Schools, recently said she thinks the holiday vacation time helped “break the cycle of the virus spreading person to person at school.”

In the most recent data set from the Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report, compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia is one of a handful of states, including Kentucky, Colorado and New Jersey, experiencing high rates of the flu. But the overall trend line is moving in the right direction. Flu activity levels have declined in several states including Alabama, South Carolina and Florida, according to the CDC report released Friday.

It’s hard to say whether the flu this season will continue to decrease or tick back up in the coming weeks.

And it’s unknown why the flu season was so harsh last year.

Grady Memorial Hospital made national news last year when the hospital set up an emergency room trailer. It was a jarring sign of the flu epidemic’s out-of-control spread. This year may not be so bad, but the mobile unit at Grady, officially called Atrium Health’s Carolinas MED-1, worked out well enough that the hospital was glad to bring it back. The Grady ER is usually near capacity, and flu season tips it over.

MORE: Grady's ER trailer returns to combat flu

Each year, 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu, tens of thousands are hospitalized and thousands die from a flu-related illness. This costs an estimated $10.4 billion a year in direct medical expenses and an additional $16.3 billion in lost earnings annually, according to the CDC.

About half of Americans get annual flu shots. In recent years, flu vaccination rates have been on the rise, standing at about 60 percent for children and about 42 percent for adults.

— Staff writer Ariel Hart contributed to this article.


People should always practice good health hygiene, but it is particularly important now with flu circulating.

Dr. Andi Shane, medical director of hospital epidemiology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, provided key strategies for flu prevention:

Get the flu shot. Hospitals and clinics are seeing higher rates of flu infection, but it’s still not too late to get a flu vaccine. Even if a flu vaccine does not completely protect you or your family from having the flu, people who get flu shots tend to experience fewer days of symptoms, less severe symptoms and are less likely to need medical care.

Hand hygiene should be practiced by everyone. Wash your hands, and your children’s hands, frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing. You can also use an alcohol-based sanitizer to keep hands clean.

Cover your cough and sneezes with the inside of your elbow or a tissue that is then discarded. Sneezing into the inside of your elbow or a tissue reduces the chances those droplets (those tiny drops from a sick person) will fly out when you cough or sneeze and land on the mouths or noses of people nearby.

Stay home when sick. To reduce the spread of flu infections in the community, stay home from work or school when ill. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone (except to get medical care or other necessities). The fever should be gone for at least 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol.

MORE: When can you go back to work or school if you have the flu?

Take care of yourself. To help your immune system be in good enough shape to fight off the flu and other germs, eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise.