Middle Georgia seeing early flu cases

The South leading the nation in reported cases

lfabian@macon.comOctober 18, 2012 

Influenza outbreaks typically peak in January, but some Middle Georgians are already suffering.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that of the 10 health regions in the nation, a higher percentage of flu cases were confirmed early this month in the South.

“There’s no way that we are notified of every single flu case there is; however, we have gotten reports from physicians that they are seeing flu,” said Jennifer Jones, public information officer for the North Central Health District of Georgia, which covers Baldwin, Bibb, Crawford, Hancock, Houston, Jasper, Jones, Monroe, Peach, Putnam, Twiggs, Washington, and Wilkinson counties. “I can’t tell whether we’ll peak early or just see more cases.”

Dr. Seth Bush of Middle Georgia Pediatrics typically sees about 50 patients a day, but he had more than 80 children come through the office Monday.

“Definitely the flu is here early,” said Bush, who is also seeing cases of strep throat and stomach viruses.

The North Central Health District saw its first flu cases in August as children started back to school, said Debbie Liby, nursing director for the North Central Health District.

“I was a little panicked we wouldn’t get vaccines in time and all the kids would get sick,” said Liby, who coordinates vaccination programs in local schools.

The district is nearly halfway through with administering vaccines in schools and vaccinations are still available without an appointment through local health districts, she said.

Bibb County schools spokeswoman Stephanie Hartley said they are not seeing any signs of flu, yet.

“There are some signs of strep throat and a virus where students are throwing up,” Hartley said.

Influenza symptoms include fever, head and body aches, congestion, cough and runny nose -- not nausea and vomiting, as many people think.

“Historically, people have called (intestinal viruses) the flu, so people get confused,” Liby said.

Tracking all the actual influenza cases is nearly impossible.

The Medical Center of Central Georgia does not keep statistics, said Janie Poulnott, hospital spokeswoman.

“Until all tests can be done, it’s not put in a category of flu,” Poulnott said. “The emergency center has seen some that looks like it, but we’re not sure.”

The flu can be misdiagnosed as bronchitis, for example, if testing is not done, Poulnott said.

Of 2,870 national specimens tested, the CDC confirmed two cases of the 2009 strain of H1N1 between Sept. 30 and Oct. 6 in Region 4, which monitors Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and the Carolinas. During the same period, three cases of Type A (H3), one case of Type A and 17 cases of Type B were documented.

Lidy says even if you think you’ve had the flu already, you should get inoculated as the vaccine will protect against other strains you might not have been exposed to yet.

“We do have a lot of people die every year from the flu,” Lidy said. “And healthy children, not just sick children, die of the flu.”

Monroe County is embracing a “Vote and Vax” program where early voters can get their vaccine when they cast their ballot, Jones said.

The health department is striving to make it easier for people to protect themselves.

Saturday, at the Jones County Courthouse, people can be immunized for $25, or free with insurance plans, during a car seat inspection from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Even if you have flu-like symptoms, you should get the shot if you are not running a fever of 101 degrees or higher, Lidy said.

Unfortunately, there is little doctors can do other than recommend drinking plenty of fluids and resting.

If taken within 24 to 48 hours of symptoms, an anti-viral medication can shorten the duration of the flu, but antibiotics do nothing, Bush said.

“I think everybody should get their flu shots because it could be a bad year,” he said. “You don’t want to wait too long.”

To contact staff writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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