The flu that has hospitalized more than 20,000 Americans and killed nearly 100 children may finally be on the wane, but it’s not over.
In the week ending Feb. 17, Georgia reported 19 new flu-related deaths, for a seasonal total nearing 100. And this week, Grady Memorial Hospital decided it will be keeping its “mobile emergency unit,” a specialized tractor-trailer in its parking lot housing 14 hospital beds, for one more month, a hospital spokeswoman said.
While Georgia’s flu-related hospitalizations announced this weekend finally seem to be plateauing, for the first time they surpassed 2,000.
The spike in deaths doesn’t mean the plateau is rising again. Since hospitalizations may have peaked a couple of weeks ago, a portion of those more serious cases are now ending in deaths.
Even this late in the season, with people still being infected and still being hospitalized, it’s worth it to get the flu shot, said Ted Ross, the director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology. Officials with the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommend it, spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said.
“Yes. Get one,” Ross said in an e-mail. “The vast majority of kids that died from influenza this season were NOT vaccinated.”
The elderly and young children are most vulnerable to the flu. This year, though, it’s also proving particularly deadly among older non-elderly adults.
Grady’s decision to keep the mobile unit another month is a reminder that while flu is waning, it still remains a factor in overcrowded hospital emergency waiting rooms. While Grady views the decision to rent the “Carolinas MED-1” unit as a success, keeping it longer will cost Grady an additional $200,000, spokeswoman Denise Simpson said.
This year’s vaccine was not as effective as other years’ partly because the main flu strain this year, H3N2, changes shape quickly to evade immune response. However, when the final analysis of the vaccine’s power came in, it was better than expected, and new U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar made the announcement himself.
“If a young child gets a flu shot, he or she is 59 percent less likely to get the virus and have to go to the doctor,” Azar said in the press conference two weeks ago. That number is a bit better than one-third for adults.
“Go get a flu shot!” Azar said. “Do it for yourself, your family and your community.”