December 31, 2013

Flu season has arrived

It’s not too late to get vaccinated

Charles Oliver

— Flu season has started to hit hard, with the number of reported cases climbing across the country but especially in the Southeast. And the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the most prevalent strain this year has historically hit young adults, the group least likely to get a flu vaccine, the hardest.

Fortunately, Whitfield and Murray counties haven’t been hit as hard as many other places in the nation or in the state.

“The bad news is that in Georgia as a whole, reports of flu-like illnesses seem to be in the moderate to severe range,” said Jennifer King, public information officer for the North Georgia Health District. “That’s what we base it on, since so few people actually get tested for the flu. They just come in and get treated.”

But Whitfield and Murray counties’ reports of flu-like illnesses are still just in the moderate range, said King.

Hamilton Medical Center officials report that hospitalizations for flu were down for the last quarter of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012.

Daryl Cole, marketing communications manager for Hamilton, said the hospital had 138 cases since Oct. 1, compared to 229 during the same period in 2012.

Dr. John Antalis, a Dalton family physician, said he has seen a pickup in flu cases over the past few weeks, and warns that the flu season typically peaks in late January or February.

“We are trying to get people who haven’t gotten their flu shots to get them,” he said. “You have a two-week period before it kicks in, so if you get it now, it should take effect before the peak of the flu season.”

The CDC says the H1N1 flu strain is currently the most prevalent and seems to strike young and middle-aged adults the hardest.

“They are the group that is least likely to get the vaccine,” said King.

The Whitfield County Health Department is currently out of the flu vaccine. But the Murray County Health Department still has both adult and children’s doses, and Nurse Manager Debbie Chesnutt said she has seen an uptick recently in people coming in for the vaccine. And most physicians offices still have it, as do many pharmacies.

“In addition to getting a flu shot, practicing good hygiene will help reduce your chances of catching the flu,” said King. “Wash your hands often and thoroughly each day. Keep your hands away from your face. One of the major ways that people introduce the virus into their systems is to touch something that has the virus on it, then putting their hands to their face.”