Health experts predicted that the H1N1 season would peak in January or February, but so far that hasn’t happened.
According to data from the Georgia Department of Community Health, the number of H1N1 cases across the state actually decreased during those months. Although the “epidemic” that many were bracing for never quite developed, affects of H1N1 were serious, officials say.
“This strain of flu did affect about 57 million people across the nation — that’s pretty significant,” said Dave Palmer, Public Health District 2 spokesman.
“What has been surprising about H1N1 is that it mostly affected individuals under 65 years of age. Typically, with the seasonal flu, the largest percentage of (patients) affected are over 65.”
District 2 covers 13 counties — including Hall, Dawson, Forsyth and Banks.
Although local statistics are not available, public health officials said there have been about 860 hospitalizations and about 50 deaths associated with H1N1 in Georgia since April.
H1N1 cases peaked in Georgia in September when there were about 250 hospitalizations and 16 deaths. Those totals are higher than the rates during the predicted peak. So far this year, there have been about 150 hospitalizations and approximately 10 deaths connected with H1N1.
Although the worst is presumably over, health officials are still encouraging residents to get vaccinated.
“Although H1N1 flu cases are decreasing, it is still circulating and significantly affecting people younger than 25 years of age,” said Dr. M. Rony Francois, director of the state community health department division of public health.
“During this flu season, we have witnessed that the majority of those at high risk of complications from the 2009 H1N1 flu virus are individuals between the ages of 6 months to 24 years of age. If you are a parent of a child 6 months to 9 years of age, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that your child receives two doses of the H1N1 vaccine to ensure immunity to the flu virus.”
For the next flu season, vaccinating against H1N1 could possibly be easier and won’t require multiple doses.
“When manufacturers begin looking toward creating (the next season’s) flu vaccine, they take the most prevalent strains of the flu that are circulating,” said Palmer.
“So more than likely, H1N1 will be included in the seasonal flu vaccine.”