Number of Georgia flu deaths higher than last year

pramati@macon.comJanuary 22, 2014 

  • Flu prevention tips

    There are a number of ways for people to reduce the chances of catching the flu. Medical workers recommend flu shots to anyone over 6 months old. Shots are available through local health departments, physicians’ offices and many pharmacies across the midstate. You should also:
    • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based sanitizers.
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Use a sleeve if a tissue isn’t available.
    • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
    • Limit contact with people who might be sick.
    • Stay home from work, school or public gatherings if you’re sick.
    • Isolate a sick person in the household and protect others with the proper disinfectants.

    Possible flu symptoms include:
    • High fever (greater than 105 in adults and children, 103 in children ages 3-24 months, and 100.4 in babies under 3 months.)
    • Shaking chills.
    • Coughing that produces thick, dark-colored or bloody mucus. • Dehydration.
    • Extreme ear pain.
    • Worsening of a pre-existing medical condition, such as diabetes, lung or heart disease.

    Source: North Georgia Central Health District

Despite attempts to prod more Georgians to get flu vaccines this season, the number of serious cases across the state is way up from a year ago.

Georgia has had 31 flu-related deaths from July through this week, and that tally is likely to increase, according to the Georgia Department of Health. By comparison, there were 11 flu-related deaths in the state for 2012-13.

There have also been more than 600 hospital visits because of the flu.

“That is a concern,” said Jennifer Jones, spokeswoman for the state’s North Central Health District. “It appears to be more prevalent than last year.”

Since the state doesn’t require hospitals and physicians’ offices to report flu cases, she said, state officials don’t have an exact count on the number of cases.

Instead, the state extrapolates its numbers from data that hospitals and physicians share voluntarily.

There hasn’t been a confirmed, flu-related death yet in the 13-county region that the North Central Health District oversees, Jones said, but her office is awaiting lab results for several patients to determine if the cause of death was flu-related. Jones said she expects that one death will be confirmed as flu-related when lab results return.

“We’re seeing a lot more cases,” she said.

Normally, the highest-risk cases for contracting the flu are either in the very young or very old category, Jones said. This season, however, the largest percentage of flu-stricken Georgians in hospitals -- about 34.8 percent -- have been patients in the 18-49 age range. In addition, 14 of the 31 reported deaths have been in that same age range.

“If you look at the death totals, it’s not been in the young or old age brackets,” she said. “The majority of deaths have been in the groups not usually as affected” by the flu.

One of the reasons the total number of youths affected is lower might be the district’s push to administer vaccinations at schools in all 13 of its counties. The district has vaccinated about 13,600 students across those counties.

“We’ve gone into the schools, and that helps keep the younger population healthy,” she said. “That’s the age group where germs are usually spread the quickest.”

The district has given a total of 26,337 flu vaccines to all ages in all 13 counties. That number includes only the vaccinations the district has given, not shots administered at a doctor’s office or pharmacy.

Jones said the vaccines prepared to combat this year’s flu strains have been effective, and people would still benefit from a shot if they haven’t already gotten one.

“It’s not too late to get a flu shot,” she said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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