Flu reaches epidemic level in Georgia

ATLANTA -- The flu has reached epidemic levels in Georgia, the Georgia Department of Public Health has announced.

Flu activity is widespread throughout the state and the number of flu-related hospitalizations is high, according to a press release issued by the Department of Public Health. So far, two adult, flu-related deaths have been reported in Georgia.

While there is some decrease in flu activity, it is still at an epidemic level and the flu is unpredictable, said Patrick O'Neal, M.D., director of the Division of Health Protection, Georgia Department of Public Health.

Peak flu season typically does not happen until late January or early February so the worst may not be over, according to the Department of Public Health.

The Georgia Weekly Influenza Report, compiled by the Department of Public Health, for Dec. 29 through Jan. 5, shows that influenza activity decreased in the state. However, there were still 56 hospitalizations due to influenza infection in the metro area, bringing the total to 471 this flu season.

Of the 1,753 specimens tested and reported by the Georgia Public Health Laboratory and the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System, 413, or 23.6 percent, were positive for influenza. The average percent positive of all laboratory confirmed tests was 24.6 percent, above the season onset threshold of 10 percent.

In the eight-county metro Atlanta area, which includes Cobb, Douglas, Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton counties, for this particular week, the majority of confirmed cases -- 173 -- were for those in the over 65 age group.

There are 47 states with widespread flu outbreaks, and health officials blame the flu for at least 20 child deaths nationally. There have been no child deaths from the flu reported in Georgia.

The two deaths reported this flu season were of people in the age 49 to 64 and 65 and older age groups.

The Department of Public Health advises anyone who thinks they have the flu to call or visit their doctor.

It's still not too late to get a flu shot, which is the most effective way to prevent the flu, according to the Department of Public Health.

Every healthy individual over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine. The predominant strain of flu circulating in Georgia and around the country is H3N2. This year's vaccine is a close match making it effective in preventing the flu or minimizing its symptoms and duration, according to the Department of Public Health.

Other measures that can be taken for flu prevention include frequent and thorough hand washing with warm water and soap. Alcohol-based gels are the next best thing if you don't have 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 for at least 24 hours before returning to work or school.

If you are caring for a sick individual at home, keep them away from other people as much as possible. Keep the sick person away from common areas of the house and if you have more than one bathroom, have the sick person use one and well people use the other. Clean the sick room and the bathroom once a day with household disinfectant. No one should visit the sick person other than the caregiver. Clean linens, eating utensils and dishes used by the sick person thoroughly before reusing. There is no need to wash items separately.

To learn more about influenza and the nationwide epidemic go to www.flu.gov.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.