Flu cases at Northeast Georgia Medical Center
Past six weeks: 2,489 flu tests administered; 654 positive
Peak of last year’s flu season (week ending March 3, 2012, to week ending April 7, 2012): 463 flu tests administered; 30 positive
Note: Statistics only reflect emergency room and in-patient population
Source: Northeast Georgia Medical Center
Steps to help protect from the flu
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Practice good health habits. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy food.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
Since 2002, the United States has had only two flu seasons that have affected more people than this year’s. One of those seasons, the 2009-10 season, included the H1N1 pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 6 percent of patients in the United States have reported an influenzalike illness this season. The highest since 2002 was nearly 8 percent during the H1N1 outbreak.
Hall County residents have not been immune to the effects of this year’s strain, either. According to the Northeast Georgia Medical Center, over the past six weeks there have been more than 650 positive tests for influenza — an increase of more than 2,000 percent from last season’s peak six weeks.
Those tests include only the emergency room and in-patient population, not affiliated physician groups or urgent care centers.
“We’re just getting tons and tons of infections this year, so it seems to be a bad strain this year,” said Dr. Douglas Morrison, emergency medicine physician at the medical center’s emergency room.
“The flu seasons vary from year to year. The flu constantly morphs and adapts, so each year we have different strains of the flu so sometimes they tend to be more infectious — like this year.”
Morrison said the emergency room, as a result of increased flu cases, has seen upward of 80 more patients per day this year than on average. In fact, the emergency room has added staff to keep up with the increase.
“We’re ramping up our staffing just because the flu season has been so rough, and we’re actually considering adding a couple more in the next month or two,” Morrison said.
But health coordinators for the county school system said this season’s cases, although up from last year, have been fairly low in numbers.
“(School nurses) are seeing some come in with flu-like symptoms who are subsequently diagnosed with the flu,” said Mamie Coker, health services coordinator for Hall County Schools. “But it’s a little different than a few years ago when we had H1N1 and we had students come up — several a day — to the clinic with high fever and we’re really not seeing that same pattern.”
Coker said some schools are seeing between 7 and 8 percent absenteeism in students, but most schools are between 5 and 6 percent, which, she said, is “really good for this time of year.”
When schools top a 10 percent absenteeism rate, Coker said, then officials report it to public health and look into potential issues.
But, Coker said, Hall schools tend to see most of their flu cases from the end of January through mid-February — sometimes until the beginning of March.
“What we’re seeing in our schools and what we’re getting from our nurses, we may (have) a little more increased activity than last year, but last year was really a mild year for us,” Coker said. “However, it’s not over yet. We still have what is historically the high of the flu season ahead of us, but we hope through good prevention efforts we’ll be able to keep the spread at a minimum.”
Morrison said it’s not too late for a flu shot and, he said, “It’s still a very good recommendation.”
For more information on prevention and vaccination, visit www.flu.gov.