Flu hitting state hard
Residents urged to take precautions against illness

CONYERS - The number of reported cases of the flu has increased this year, and many in Rockdale County are feeling its effects.

Part of the reason for the uptick is blamed on the vaccine that was manufactured for this year's flu season, which is a less-than-perfect match for the flu virus strains that have appeared.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site, the flu strains affecting many this year, referred to as type A/Brisbane and type B, are different from the dead or weakened versions that were used in creating this year's vaccinations.

As a result, more flu cases have been reported to local health providers than in the previous two years, which saw a decline in the cyclical illness.

In Rockdale County, many employers have said they have experienced an increase in the number of people calling in sick. Rockdale County Tax Commissioner Dan Ray said each of his 16 employees had been out sick at some time since the first of the year.

At one point, one-quarter of his staff was out sick, which in turn caused longer waits for customers and delays in responding to telephone inquires.

"A couple of times after everyone had left, I sprayed nearly an entire can of Lysol disinfectant all throughout the office," Ray said. "We wipe down the counters daily with Lysol disinfectant wipes."

Other county departments, like the 911 Emergency Communications center, have reported similar down time. Nancy Guinn Memorial Library Director Debbie Manget said she has had two employees who had the flu recently.

"Considering the large number of public persons we come in contact with every day, maybe that's not too bad," she said. "We are serious about using hand sanitizers and other germ riddance practices."

Vernon Goins, public information officer with the East Metro Health District, said it's important that people know what flu symptoms are.

"One needs to distinguish the main symptoms to know if it's the flu," he said. "You can have the sniffles, but that's not always a flu symptom. A sudden fever followed by chest pains or fatigue and they probably have the flu."

Goins said the best thing for people to do who have contracted the flu is to go home, not only to rest but to avoid spreading the virus to others.

"It's going to run its course whether you're out working or not," Goins said. "It's just best to stay home where it's likely not to last as long than being on your feet."

Rockdale Medical Center has reported an increase in the number of visits to its emergency department in the past month. RMC spokeswoman Marsha Terry said February has been a busier month than the previous four months. The RMC emergency department has averaged 121 patients a day, with a significant number of those visits due to flu-like symptoms.

Terry said there is a concern that some will spread the flu to others, and said home rest and isolation is the best course for people with the basic flu symptoms. Those who experience shortness of breath or repeated vomiting should consider seeking medical help, however.

Goins said people can still get a flu shot, if they can find them. The current flu vaccination is about 50 percent effective and may reduce the severity of flu symptoms caused by the new viral strains.

Goins said this time of the year is typically the end of the flu season, and the health departments in Conyers and Covington will have a few shots left. He said it is best to call ahead to make sure flu shots are available. For more information, call the Rockdale County Health Department at 770-785-5936 or the Newton County Health Department at 770-786-9086.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a higher-than-expected number of flu cases this season and suggests basic personal hygiene measures to avoid getting the flu virus. For those who believe they are getting the flu, bed rest and avoiding people is the best advice.

Ways to prevent getting the flu:

· Wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizers. The flu virus spreads quickly from touching infected persons or surfaces.

· Practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette by covering your mouth and nose. It's better to sneeze or cough in the crook of your arm than in your hands to avoid spreading the flu virus to commonly touched surfaces, like door knobs and counter tops.

· Get a flu vaccination. Although the vaccination out now is reportedly less effective than believed, it can still help reduce the severity of symptoms or help reduce the time sick.

Flu symptoms:

· Sudden, high fever from 102 F to 104 F that can last three to four days

· Severe aches and pains

· Fatigue and weakness that can last from two to three weeks

· Headache

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.