Georgia one of 7 states with worst flu-like outbreak as school resumes

COVID hospitalizations in Georgia also rise

If it feels like you know a lot of people who are home sick right now, it’s not just your imagination. The new year is starting with a continuing rise in respiratory illnesses, especially the flu. The numbers are expected to keep growing after recent holiday gatherings and travel.

Georgia is now among seven states with the highest levels of flu-like illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu activity has reached “very high” levels in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The latest Georgia flu report for the week ending Dec. 23 shows the percentage of people going to the doctor for flu-like symptoms has reached 10.3% of all doctor visits. That’s up from 7.6% from the previous week.

The data is based on the number of people going to the doctor with symptoms such as fever, cough or sore throat. It can include people who are suffering from any of the circulating viruses: flu, coronavirus or Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Also in the mix are the common cold and the bacterial infection known as strep throat, according to local doctors.

The state’s latest report shows a higher level of flu illnesses in early January compared to this time over the past three years.

At SmartMED Drive-Thru Medical Care in Roswell, about 75% of their patient volume has been for respiratory illnesses over the past few weeks.

There has been no slowdown in recent days. Dr. Luke Lathrop, chief medical officer at SmartMed, expects the volume to increase even more during the coming days as children return to school.

Dr. Jim Fortenberry, chief medical officer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said Wednesday the hospital system is continuing to see high volumes of children with respiratory illnesses coming into the emergency room and children needing to be admitted.

Widespread flu activity is driving the current spike in illnesses. COVID numbers have also risen in recent weeks but they are not as high as previous years. Meanwhile, RSV is on the decline after an earlier rise in cases.

“Fortunately, RSV numbers seem to be declining. We hit our RSV peak towards the end of November. Currently, the primary diagnosis we are seeing has been children with the flu. We’re also seeing a slight increase in children with COVID-19 virus infection,” Fortenberry said in an email.

Physicians agree the best way to avoid spreading and contracting viruses is to get vaccinated and stay home if you are sick. Doctors and the CDC recommend early treatment for anyone who gets sick, especially for those at high risk of serious complications. Antivirals are available for both COVID and the flu, but must be taken shortly after symptoms appear.

Most people can recover from COVID and the flu at home. And no matter your risk, if you have difficulty breathing or shortness or breath, seek medical care right away.

New COVID hospitalizations are up in Georgia, but they remain lower than previous holiday seasons. In Georgia, new COVID hospitalizations totaled 501 for the week ending Dec. 23. That’s up from 472 the previous week, a 6% increase. Nationally, new COVID hospitalizations increased by 17% over the same period.

The CDC estimates that 42% of adults in the U.S. have received a flu shot, according to estimates on Dec. 9. Only 18% of adults have received the updated COVID vaccine, And only 17% of adults 60 and over have received an RSV vaccine.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta graphic

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Which vaccines you need, and when:

COVID-19 Vaccines:

CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get the COVID vaccine that was updated this year to protect against the potentially serious outcomes of COVID illness. New variants continue to surface, but the current formula still offers protection.

People who recently had COVID can hold off getting the vaccine for three months.

Flu vaccines:

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated for the flu. Ideally, get the shot by the end of October but later is better than never. The seasonal flu vaccine is reformulated each year to tailor them to the virus types predicted to be most common in the upcoming season. Even when it’s not a perfect match, the shots can prevent serious illness.

RSV Vaccines

The CDC recommends the RSV vaccine for adults over 60, after they have a conversation about it with their health care providers, something called “shared clinical decision-making.” Pregnant women are also recommended to get an RSV vaccine during their pregnancy. Babies born to mothers who get the RSV vaccine at least 2 weeks before delivery will have protection and, in most cases, should not need an RSV immunization later.

The CDC had also recommended earlier all children under 8 months of age get an RSV shot, along with older infants at higher risk for severe disease. But due to a shortage of the immunization, the CDC recommended in October that doses be prioritized for children under 6 months of age and for infants with underlying conditions that place them at the highest risk for severe RSV disease. Local doctors say the availability of the RSV doses is starting to improve.