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Flu spikes in Georgia
Local clinic, state encountering more cases this season than in previous year
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Licensed Practical Nurse Melanie Boestfleisch, right, administers a flu shot Thursday to Veronica Vargas of Gainesville at the Health Department. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Get a flu shot
When: 8:30 a.m. to noon today
Where: The Longstreet Clinic, 725 Jesse Jewell Parkway, Gainesville
How much: $20
More info: 770-718-1122
Online: Find other places to get flu shots at www.flu.gov.

Georgia has been hit harder by the flu than any other state, with cases appearing at more than twice the national level, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

But experts say it isn't clear whether this means a worse flu season for Georgians or just an earlier one.

"It could be a little bit of both," said Sheila Coffee, a practice administrator at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville. "...It could get worse as we get further into winter."

Nationally, 2.5 percent of patients visiting doctors show flu symptoms, but in Georgia that number is hovering near 6 percent, which constitutes widespread levels, according to Dave Palmer, spokesman for the Georgia Health Department.

Since Oct. 15, The Longstreet Clinic has had more than 1,450 confirmed flu cases, up from 350 cases in the same time period last year.

Tom Skinner, spokesman for the CDC, said there is no way to know why one state would see higher flu levels than another.

"Flu is unpredictable and so we just can't say with certainty why one area is being hit harder than another at a certain time of year," he said.

Coffee said physicians at The Longstreet Clinic are concerned because they also have seen fewer people coming in for flu shots this year than in previous years. That could be a response to previous shortages of the vaccine, she said.

But Skinner said that's something people don't need to be concerned about this year, with 160 million doses of the vaccine currently available. He also added that this year's vaccine is a good match for the flu strains currently circulating.

"We try to guess what strains are going to circulate here during our flu season and then we develop a vaccine by taking strains that are circulating around the globe and putting them into a vaccine," he said. "This year it looks like we have a good match."

The CDC recommends a flu shot for anyone older than 6 months. Experts said the high rate of flu is something people should be aware of, but with proper precautions it isn't something Georgians need to be concerned about.

"If you haven't had your flu shot, by all means get one," Coffee said. "And if you have any symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible so that they can treat you soon."

 

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