By Johnny Jackson
The number of hospitalizations related to the 2009 H1N1 novel influenza virus is increasing throughout the state of Georgia.
"We have had seven hospitalizations and two deaths of Henry County residents since Jan. 1," said Hayla Hall, risk communicator at District 4 Health Services, which includes Henry County.
The Georgia Department of Community Health reported 80 H1N1-related hospitalizations for the week of March 3-9, more than double the cases reported the week prior. Thirty-eight H1N1-related hospitalizations were reported between Feb. 24 and March 2, but 80 such hospitalizations were reported between March 3rd and 9th.
According to the department, the number of hospitalizations is the highest weekly count since September 2009, and the second highest since April 2009, when the department began keeping the records.
Health officials said it is too early to tell whether a trend has started, but caution residents to be prepared, and vaccinated. They are encouraging residents to continue to pursue vaccinations, particularly for children between 6 months and 10 years of age, who are due for a second H1N1 shot.
"Influenza viruses typically prefer cold, dry weather. 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," said Ravae Graham, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Community Health.
Graham said the department is continuing to monitor 2009 H1N1 influenza to look for trends in Georgians. "We have not detected any seasonal strains of influenza through our State Public Health Laboratory, yet," she said. "All positive influenza tests have been 2009 H1N1 this flu season."
There have been a total of 940 H1N1-related hospitalizations since April 2009, according to her department. Since that time, 58 deaths in Georgia have been associated with the new strain of flu.
Though some groups are more susceptible than others to the virus, health officials warn that the virus may infect anyone. Health Risk Communicator Hayla Hall said the two H1N1-associated deaths reported in Henry County, so far this year, have been of residents in the adult age group, between the ages of 35 and 65.
"People over the age of 35, who have not been vaccinated, need to get vaccinated," Hall said. "And anyone with an underlying health conditions, should get vaccinated."
Hall noted that the symptoms of H1N1 are similar to regular seasonal flu, and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some infected people have also reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Those who get H1N1, she added, should stay at home and away from others they can infect.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people practice good personal hygiene to stave off contracting the virus -- washing one's hands with soap and water, covering one's nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, and avoiding touching one's eyes, nose, and mouth.
Residents can find what facilities still have the H1N1 vaccine available by using the Georgia Division of Public Health's online H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Provider Locator, at http://health.state.ga.us/h1n1flu.