Published Friday, December 07, 2012
By NICHOLE GOLDEN
It’s early in the flu season, yet neighboring Alabama is reporting regional outbreaks of the influenza virus, and South Carolina has widespread confirmed cases.
“We are still encouraging people to get flu vaccine,” said Alice Jackson of the Coweta County Health Department.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), incidence of flu has increased significantly nationwide.
“Increasing flu activity should be a wake-up call,” said Dr. Melinda Wharton, acting director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
According to CDC’s weekly surveillance report published on Nov. 30, 48 states and Puerto Rico have already reported cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza and, nationally, the percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza is rising fast. Influenza-like-illness (ILI) activity levels in parts of the country are already higher than all of last season. Nationally, the United States reached the baseline level for ILI the week ending Nov. 24, and five states are already reporting the highest level of activity possible.
“Baseline is the point at which we know the ILI activity we are seeing is most likely caused by influenza and not other viruses,” said Wharton.
With the exception of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, this is the earliest that the nation has hit the ILI baseline since the 2003-2004 season, which was early and severe, especially for children. Last season, which was mild and late, the U.S. did not reach baseline for ILI until mid-March.
According to FluView, activity is most intense in the south-central and southeast of the country now. However, it shows signs of increasing across the rest of the country as well. Most of the viruses characterized so far this season have been H3N2 viruses, which are typically associated with more severe seasons.
The positive news, according to public health officials, is that most of the viruses characterized at CDC so far this season are well-matched to the vaccine viruses.
“How well the vaccine works depends in part on the match between vaccine viruses and circulating viruses,” Wharton said.
“If the influenza viruses spreading are very different from the vaccine viruses, the vaccine won’t work as well. While it’s early in the season, it’s encouraging to see a well-matched vaccine so far. That bodes well for how well this season’s vaccine will protect against illness, hospitalizations and deaths.”
The Coweta Health Department still has both injectable and FluMist vaccine.
The health department accepts United Health Care, Cigna, M/C and Medicaid, or clients can self pay a fee of $25 for injection/mist.
Walk-ins will be accepted from 8- 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 14. For an appointment time, call 770-254-7400. The health department is located on Hospital Road in Newnan.
Though each flu season varies, influenza can be severe, hospitalizing up to 200,000 people and killing between 3,000 and 49,000 during a season.
While the protection afforded by vaccination varies based on vaccine match and the health and age of the person getting vaccinated, flu vaccination is the best way to protect against influenza.
Public health officials advise everyone aged 6 months and older to get a flu vaccination each year to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk of serious flu-related complications, like young children and people 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
In past flu seasons, as many as 80 percent of adults hospitalized from flu complications had a long-term health condition as did about 50 percent of hospitalized children.