Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

December 22, 2013

Influenza on the rise

Experts say it’s not too late to get vaccine

VALDOSTA — Area physicians are seeing an increasing number of patients with flu symptoms several weeks earlier than usual this year, and along with the health department, are urging those who haven’t been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.

Courtney Sheeley, risk communicator for the South Georgia Health District, said, “The vaccine does appear to be a good match to the strains that are circulating this year. It’s still not too late to get your flu shot and we have plenty left at the health departments. We highly encourage people to get their flu shot as the best way to prevent getting the flu. Other key prevention measures include staying home when you're ill and washing your hands often. “

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Willy Saurina said he has seen dozens of patients in the last couple of weeks, but so far, those who have gotten the vaccine appear to be protected.

“The vaccine protects not only the person who receives it, but also their loved ones as if you get sick, you can pass it on to them and then you can’t take care of them,” he said.

For those caring for infants, elderly relatives, or those with immune disorders, diabetes or HIV, it is especially essential that they get the flu vaccine, said Saurina.

“If the caregiver gets ill, who will care for those who depend on them. If you get sick, they suffer.”

If you’ve been exposed to someone with the flu, it is essential to start taking medication immediately.

“Time is of the essence when dealing with influenza as the medications only work if taken within the first couple of days of symptoms,” he said.

Symptoms to watch for include a fever of 100 or over, body aches, chills, sweats, headache, cough, fatigue, generalized weakness and nasal congestion.

Saurina said the first 48 hours are crucial in order for the medications to help.

Influenza can be deadly for those in high -risk groups, as it can lead to other, more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

So far in Georgia this year, two have died from the flu.

Sheeley said that according to the district’s epidemiologist, January Smith, part of the recent increase in local flu activity is due to a flu cluster in one of the elementary schools. With school out for students for the holidays, the hope is that further contamination will be avoided.

South Georgia Medical Center was unable to provide the number of positive flu cases so far.

Flu is not a reportable disease to public health, although the Centers for Disease Control does attempt to follow and track trends in influenza cases. So far this year, Georgia is seeing elevated levels of flu, as are all of the eight states included in region four in the U.S.

While the CDC has not categorized the flu as an epidemic yet, the threshold will likely be crossed several weeks earlier this year due to the rapid increase recently.

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