Flu hitting older Georgians especially hard

At a press conference Wednesday to update Georgia's flu outbreak, some grim news, but also some reassurances from the state's top health official, Dr. J. Patrick O'Neal.

"This is not a pandemic, this is seasonal flu," Dr. O'Neal says. "But it's an H3N2 year, which means it's going to be a fairly serious year."

The Georgia Department of Public Health has confirmed 37 Georgians have died of flu-related complications so far this season.

One was a teenager.

Just over 700 people have been hospitalized.

The state epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek, DVM, says 12 percent of those going to see the doctor are reporting flu-like illness, which is unusually high.

"I'm hoping we are close to peaking, but I think we do have several weeks of flu activity ahead of us," Dr. Drenzek says.  "And, even if we've peaked and the activity levels start to diminish or go down a bit, it doesn't mean we're not still at risk,"

For that reason, health officials are urging people to get a flu shot, saying it's not too late.

The vaccine likely will not be as effective against the H3N2 strain of the flu, but Dr. O'Neal says it will offer some protection and may reduce the severity of your symptoms if you do get the flu.

If you are  sick, he says, ask your doctor about antiviral medication like Tamiflu. Taken within 48 hours, it can shorten the amount of time you're ill by 1 or 2 days, and can reduce your symptoms.
This year the flu is hitting older Georgians especially hard.

About 25 of the 37 Georgia flu deaths were people 65 or older. 84 percent were 50 or over And while many children are contracting the virus, the strain doesn't seem to be hitting kids unusually hard, O'Neal says.

"I know a lot of parents have been almost to the point of panic for fear that one of their kids or some of their kids were going to come down with flu," he says.  "We certainly want those children to be taken in and evaluated and treated if they need to be.  But, I think it's important for parents not to feel panicked."

Even mild flu can make you pretty miserable, with fever, cough, muscle aches and fatigue.

"But what I would say is a warning sign that should indeed send someone to seek medical attention is worsening symptoms, like a very high fever." Dr. Drenzek says.  "Again, (this is important) particularly among individuals that may be at risk of severe complications flu."

To stay well, wash your hands, cover your cough, and avoid touching your face, which is how the virus can get into your body.

And if you catch the flu, O'Neal says, make sure you're not making lots of other ill, too.

"Don't go into areas where there are a lot of of people, like going to church, or going to school, or coming to work," he says.  "When you get sick, stay home. Stay as isolated as you can."