Flu rises and remains high in Georgia

The FDA approved Xofluza in October.

Flu activity in Georgia continues to climb upward after declining last month.

The Georgia Department of Public Health said 5 percent of patient visits to doctors were for the flu during the week ending Feb 2. That's up from 4.4 percent of visits the week before, according to the most recent report released on Friday.

The exterior of Carolinas MED-1 (right), a mobile medical facility located outside of the Marcus trauma and emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. The mobile unit help cope with the influx of flu cases. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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After flu rates rose sharply before Christmas, they had been dropping. Now, rates are now ticking back upward.

The state has remained high in flu activity this season. According to the last three weeks of the Georgia Weekly Influenza Reportpatient visits in the state have fluctuated between 3.9 percent and 5 percent, a testament to the virus' unpredictability.

Since the flu season began in early October, the illness has killed nine people in Georgia — eight adults and one child — and there have been 947 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta due to flu symptoms.

In the most recent data set from influenza report, which is compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia was one of several states experiencing high levels of the flu. Others were Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Experts continue to urge people to get a flu shot if they haven’t already done so.

In this file photo from January, Grady Memorial Hospital Technical Support Specialist Lead Michael Hoggs prepares the data information systems inside the Carolinas MED-1, a mobile medical facility, located outside of the Marcus Trauma and Emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. The facility houses extra emergency room beds and has an operable emergency operating room to help cope with the influx of flu cases . (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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

Each year, 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu. 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.

MORE: 11 things parents need to know about the flu, the vaccine, how long kids need to stay out of school

Kids R Kids Learning Academy day care students wash their hands following snack time at the center in Marietta in this December file photo. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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

Dr. Andi Shane, medical director of hospital epidemiology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, outlined 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 the shots tend to experience fewer days of symptoms, less severe symptoms and are less likely to need medical care.
  • Good 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 you then discard. 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, school or social events when ill. The CDC 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.
  • 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.

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