This time last year, hundreds of local children and thousands of people across the nation were hit with a particularly bad strain of the flu.
Now, the 2015-2016 flu season is less severe and widespread, likely due in part to a more effective flu shot.
Paula Sawyer, health services coordinator for Gainesville City Schools, said the city schools have seen fewer absences due to flu-related illness.
“Last year, we saw large numbers of flu cases before our holiday break,” Sawyer said. “But I have not had that this year. I hope we don’t see that change.”
Flu shots are developed each year after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other national partners spend the summer identifying which strains of influenza are likely to spread in the coming winter.
Multiple flu viruses circulate every year, and the flu vaccine is made to protect against the three or four flu viruses that research suggests will be most common.
Thus far, the current flu shot seems to be more effective than last year’s.
“We’re hoping, and we’re hearing in the news, that the flu vaccine was a good match this year, whereas last year it was not a good match and it was obvious it was not a good match,” said Mamie Coker, health services coordinator for the Hall County School District.
Coker said she and the school nurses are also seeing fewer cases of the flu in the county schools this year.
“Schools are a microcosm of the community,” Coker said. “Usually, we see it first, and then you see it out in the community. I did an informal survey with the nurses, and for the most part, they were seeing some respiratory issues before the holiday, just in general bronchitis and a few gastrointestinal issues, but not many reports of confirmed flu. And not anything overwhelming.”
Coker warned it is still the middle of the flu season and students have just returned to school following the holidays, so the opportunity for the flu to spread is increasing again.
Dave Palmer, public information officer for District 2 Public Health, said the CDC releases flu updates weekly throughout flu season. For the week ending Dec. 26, Georgia was showing a slight increase in flu activity.
“Georgia has risen above the baseline for activity,” Palmer said. “The baseline is about 1.6 percent, and we’re at 2.4 percent for that week. So it’s still low to moderate activity, though it’s increased some.”
Palmer said the same report shows South Carolina recorded high flu activity in December, indicating Georgia may not be in the clear this flu season.
According to the CDC, continued increases in activity are expected in the coming weeks. No influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported yet this season nationally, which is a massive improvement over last year’s seven pediatric deaths in the Southeast and 13 total deaths in Georgia.
The flu virus usually peaks in February, but can last into May.
“We encourage everybody to get the flu shot, even this late in the season,” Palmer said. “Flu typically runs from October into May, and it takes a couple weeks for the vaccine to build up. So we still encourage people in the middle of the season, like we are now, to go ahead and get their flu shot if they haven’t.”