A container of needles during the 2nd Annual Drive-Thru Flu Shot Clinic at parking lots of Northlake Mall in September 2018. 
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Flu rates spike in Georgia and nation

Between Feb. 2 and Feb. 9, the number of people seeking treatment for the flu reached its highest level nationally since the current flu season began last October.

And in Georgia, the number of people with flu-like symptoms who visited a doctor jumped from 5 percent to 6.3 percent during the same period, according to data released Friday by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The state also reported that between Feb. 2 and Feb. 9, one person died from a flu-related illness and 1,108 people were hospitalized up from 947 the previous week.

The spike in infections is not unexpected, according to Dr. Andi Shane of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University. Two strains of the flu are responsible for fluctuations in infection rates depending on the time of the year.

“Traditionally, we see a decline in influenza A infections in the beginning to middle of February and an increase in influenza B infections in mid-to-late February through the end of March and into early April,” Dr. Shane wrote in an email interview.

But she cautioned that the only predictable thing about the flu is that it is unpredictable.


RELATED: Is it the flu or a cold? How to tell the difference


Nationally, the number of people who sought medical treatment for flu-like symptoms rose from 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent for the week ending Feb. 9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the 2018-2019 flu season, which began in October, is continuing to see a rise in the number of children who have died from the virus. In its weekly flu update released Friday, the CDC said another six pediatric deaths had been reported to the agency for the week ending Feb. 9. That brings the total number of pediatric deaths nationally to 34 for this flu season.

Despite these numbers, this flu season is not as lethal as the one in 2017-2018.

A Kids R Kids Learning Academy day care student washes her hands following snack time on December 18, 2018. 
Photo: ALYSSA POINTER/  ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Children can be especially susceptible to the virus.

“Flu infections are more severe in people with underlying medical conditions such as asthma or other respiratory and cardiac conditions,” said Dr. Shane. “However, only one-third of the 24 children who have experienced influenza-related deaths this 2018-19 season had an underlying high-risk condition. This means that everyone, healthy or with an underlying condition, over the age of 6 months should protect themselves against flu infections by receiving the age-appropriate number of doses of a flu vaccine.”

Shane said it’s still not too late to get a flu vaccine, especially since Georgia’s flu season extends into mid-April. Physicians and researchers say that even if a child catches the flu after being vaccinated, the vaccine can lessen the severity and duration of the infection.

Georgia’s flu rates remain among the highest in the nation. However, the only Southern state that has a low flu activity level is Florida.


WHY IT MATTERS

Since the flu season began in early October, there have been 947 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta due to flu symptoms. 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.

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