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Despite state flu ‘epidemic,’ county not hit hard

Photo by Heather Middleton
Though she’s no fan of needles, reporter Rachel Shirey gets a flu vaccination Friday. Despite “epidemic” levels statewide, the Southern Crescent hasn’t been hit hard by the bug, and local medical facilities are doing their part to keep it that way.

Photo by Heather Middleton Though she’s no fan of needles, reporter Rachel Shirey gets a flu vaccination Friday. Despite “epidemic” levels statewide, the Southern Crescent hasn’t been hit hard by the bug, and local medical facilities are doing their part to keep it that way.

By Rachel Shirey

rshirey@news-daily.com

JONESBORO — The Georgia Department of Public Health is reporting “epidemic” flu activity across the state, saying the virus is “hitting Georgia harder this year than it has in nearly a decade.” But Clayton County does not appear to be in crisis mode.

Barby J. Simmons, a family medicine provider and lead physician at the Southwood location for Kaiser Permanente, said there is some cause for concern since the season started earlier than anticipated, but the media has blown the subject out of proportion.

“It doesn’t necessarily say anything different about this flu season than any other,” Simmons said. “The normal flu season begins in October, so that’s every year. There usually is a rise in flu activity as the season goes on.”

The Department of Public Health’s “The Georgia Weekly Influenza Report,” shows that influenza activity has actually decreased in the state, and there were only 56 hospitalizations in the metro Atlanta area.

There have only been two adult flu-related deaths reported in the state.

“It’s not necessary to go to the emergency room,” Simmons said. “This is something that should be handled by your primary care provider or urgent care facility.”

Simmons also added that the amount of healthcare dollars wasted and the amount of people affected with weak immune systems is tremendous when people visit the emergency room for flu-like symptoms.

“Since the flu is a virus, the average person that gets the flu, the symptoms may last anywhere from one to two weeks and will kind of mimic cold symptoms, and you can definitely take care of these symptoms at home,” Simmons said.

She recommends lots of rest, eating right, fruit and vegetables, protecting yourself from spreading the flu and getting vaccinated.

“There are cases — younger people, older people, pregnant people, if you have symptoms that are worsening — then you definitely want to go in and seek treatment,” Simmons said.

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.

Even the Clayton County School system is reporting normal numbers of absences, and none related to the flu. Visits to the nursing offices have been consistent in the recent weeks.

“Our overall absentee rate for today (Wednesday) is 5.4 percent, which is average for this time of year,” said schools spokesman David Waller. “Jan. 16 was a holiday, but the overall absentee rate for Jan. 17 was a little higher at 5.7 percent. None of our schools reached a level of absenteeism that would indicate a flu outbreak.”

Teachers are making sure students are washing their hands frequently and have reviewed procedures for coughing and sneezing that reduce the risk of transmission.

"We sent the schools a disinfectant called VIREX-II, to be used on the desks or any surface students may touch throughout the day,” said Director of Maintenance San Coger. “Maintenance has been issuing it to our school's custodians for several years. It kills hundreds of viruses, including the flu virus.”

“We were just trying to be proactive by getting a bottle to each teacher, so they can ensure their classrooms are disinfected at the end of each day,” Coger continued. “Although the custodians had it, they did not have enough bottles for each classroom, so we have remedied that situation."

However, it is still critical people take flu prevention seriously, said Simmons.

Flu prevention can be as simple as good home hygiene, washing hands regularly and using a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

Simmons said getting the flu shot is still the number one way to protect yourself. Even though the flu doesn’t appear to be at “epidemic levels” in Clayton County, facilities like Southwood are seeing an increase in patients as the middle of flu season nears.

“We are seeing an increase,” Simmons said. “And I know for us here at Kaiser, we have given out 75,000 flu vaccines to members already, but we still have a lot of vaccines left to give so there’s still people coming in now to be vaccinated.”

Flu vaccines are available at doctor’s offices, pharmacies and some drug stores. Flu vaccines cost $31.99 at both CVS and Wallgreens.