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Flu season starts early in Georgia

COVINGTON -- The flu is hitting Georgia earlier and harder this year, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Though still considered moderate in Georgia, flu activity is increasing significantly statewide, the Department of Public Health reports.

Some Georgia school systems are reporting high absenteeism due to flu-like illnesses.

The early onset of the H3N2 flu is one indication of a potentially severe flu season. Peak flu season is usually the end of January and runs through late February or early March.

Symptoms of the flu include cough, runny nose, sore throat and fever. One of the most pronounced flu symptoms is an overall feeling of achiness and malaise that comes on quickly, according to the Department of Health. The single most effective way to prevent the flu is the flu vaccine. This year's flu vaccine closely matches the strains of flu circulating in Georgia making it effective in preventing the flu or minimizing its symptoms. The Georgia Department of Public Health recommends every healthy individual over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine.

"Because the flu vaccine so closely matches this year's flu strains, it just makes good common sense to get it," said J. Patrick O'Neal, M.D., director of health protection, Georgia Department of Public Health. "The holidays bring gatherings with family and friends and increase the likelihood of spreading the flu. Now is the time to get vaccinated."

Vaccines are available at doctor's offices and some pharmacies. Local health departments in Newton and Rockdale also offer the vaccine at a cost of $25.

The Newton County Health Department is located at 8203 Hazelbrand Road, Covington and is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Thursday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

The Rockdale County Health Department is located at 985 Taylor St., Conyers, and hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Shots are available for those age 6 months and older. Nasal spray is available for non-pregnant, healthy individuals age 2 to 49, and a high dose vaccine is available for seniors age 65 and older. The health departments accept cash, debit and credit cards, Medicare and Medicaid and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia. United Healthcare and Cigna are accepted from state employees.

Frequent and thorough hand washing also will help guard against the flu, according to the Department of Public Health. Alcohol based gels are the next best thing if there is no access to soap and water. Cover the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing to help prevent the spread of the flu. Use a tissue or cough or sneeze into the crook of the elbow or arm. Avoid touching your face as flu germs can get into the body through mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes. If you are sick, stay home from school or work. Flu sufferers should be free of a fever without the use of a fever reducer such as Tylenol for at least 24 hours before returning to work or school.