By Johnny Jackson
Health officials warn that H1N1 influenza cases are back on the rise, following an early winter lull in December.
"Georgia has experienced significant influenza activity in most regions of the state since late summer," said Ravae Graham, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Community Health. "We saw a decline in cases, including hospitalizations and deaths, in December. But now we are detecting an increase similar to what we experienced in the fall."
The department reported that, so far this year, six deaths and as many as 100 hospitalizations in Georgia have been associated with the H1N1 flu virus, known as the swine flu. Two deaths and about 30 hospitalizations were reported in the month of December.
"Influenza viruses typically prefer cold, dry weather," Graham said. "However, with this new strain of influenza [2009 H1N1], it is too early to say what conditions best support its growth and ability to infect people."
The Department of Community Health is monitoring the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus in order to find trends in Georgians, she said.
"We have not detected any seasonal strains of influenza through our State Public Health Laboratory yet," Graham added. "All positive influenza tests have been 2009 H1N1 this flu season."
Hayla Hall, risk communicator for District 4 Health Services, said so far this year, one death in the district has been blamed on the swine flu -- a Troup County resident.
She said prior to that death, the 12-county district, which includes Henry County, had not experienced an H1N1 death since the week of Oct. 25, 2009.
Hall reminds residents "it is not too late to get vaccinated against 2009 H1N1."
The vaccine, she added, is available at the health department free of charge and at many pharmacies and doctors' offices in the county. She said residents should contact their nearest health department about the availability of both seasonal flu and swine flu vaccines.
The Henry County Health Department is located at 135 Henry Parkway in McDonough. The Clayton County Board of Health is located at 1117 Battlecreek Road in Jonesboro.
To learn more about the H1N1 flu vaccine, call the Clayton County Board of Health at (678) 610-7199, or call the Henry County Health Department at (770) 288-6136.