Flu activity continues to go down but still considered at high level

Flu activity in Georgia continues to decline but remains high and widespread.

The Georgia Department of Public Health said 4 percent of patient visits to doctors were for the flu during the week ending March 16. That's down from 4.2 percent of visits the week before, according to the most recent report released on Friday.

While flu levels are above the national baseline of 2.2 percent, they are still well below peak levels from December.

Since October, patient visits for flu have fluctuated between 3 percent and 7.4 percent in a testament to the virus’ unpredictability.

After flu rates rose sharply before Christmas, they dropped. Rates started rising again in early February but have decreased.

Since the flu season began, the illness has killed 19 people in Georgia — 17 adults and two children. And there have been 1,371 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta due to flu symptoms.

In this September file photo, Claudina Prince, a registered nurse with DeKalb County Board of Health, prepares a flu shot during the 2nd Annual Drive-Thru Flu Shot Clinic at parking lots of Northlake Mall. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

icon to expand image

In the most recent data set from the influenza report compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia was one of 26 states experiencing high levels of the flu. Others included Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and New Jersey.

MORE: Medical marijuana in Georgia: legal to have, but illegal to get

No influenza-related deaths were included in the most recent report from Georgia public health officials. There were 32 in hospitalizations in metro Atlanta for the flu, another sign the season may be winding down.

Flu activity tends to peak between December and February but can last as late as May.

The 2018-19 flu season is shaping up to be a relatively mild one, and it may be thanks, at least in part, to a better match with the flu vaccine.

Mid-season estimates suggest that the flu shot has reduced the risk of illness by around 47 percent in vaccinated people, according to a report from the CDC. During the 2017-18 flu season, vaccine effectiveness was estimated at just 36 percent.

Flu vaccine effectiveness of 47 percent means you are half as likely to come down with the flu this season if you have been immunized. But even if you come down with the flu, the flu vaccine can still offer protection. It lessens the severity of the flu and reduces the chance of experiencing severe complications. Getting a vaccine also can shorten the length of the flu if you do get sick.

This year’s flu vaccine is especially effective in children, at 61 percent.

An estimated 80 percent of children who died last year from the flu didn’t get the flu vaccine.

Dr. Andi Shane, medical director of epidemiology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said children who got the vaccine but still got the flu tended to have a far milder case of the flu. Most feel sick for only a day or two — instead of being really sick for a week.

Georgia’s 2017-18 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.