Flu is taking off in Georgia more than any other state as public health returns to Richmond County schools to try to get more kids vaccinated.
In the latest flu surveillance report for the week that ended Nov. 20, Georgia is the only state reporting a high level of flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two others, Oklahoma and West Virginia, reported low levels and the rest, including South Carolina, reported only sporadic cases, the lowest level, according to the CDC’s FluView report.
“The amount of influenza-like illnesses increased tremendously in the third week of November,” said Dr. Ketty Gonzalez, director of the East Central Health District based in Augusta.
The increased activity comes as Richmond County Health Department returns to elementary schools to give about 1,400 kids a second dose of influenza vaccine, said Carol Bryan, county nurse manager. In children 9 years old and younger who have never had a flu shot, it takes two doses to get an adequate response, she said. Once those doses are administered, the Richmond County will have immunized more than 4,300 school kids, Bryant said.
Getting kids vaccinated is important, not only to protect them but to help prevent the spread of flu because kids are especially good at that, Gonzalez said.
“Not only are they protecting themselves but they protect their families,” she said. “Kids like to touch their noses and mouths and touch things. They are not good at washing their hands. They are a good vector, if you will, of the virus. They spread it.”
So far, South Carolina has not seen the kind of activity Georgia has, said Jim Beasley, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“We’re still pretty early in the game as far as South Carolina is concerned,” he said. While flu is very unpredictable, “we normally do not see our majority of cases until after the start of the new year,” Beasley said. “Usually we don’t peak until around February in South Carolina in a typical flu season.”
Georgia could also be benefitting from its surveillance network - the state has 77 providers reporting influenza-like illness cases while South Carolina has 44 reporting providers, 19 of whom turned in reports in the latest flu surveillance. South Carolina has already had one death related to flu, however, which was an elderly woman in the Midlands area, Beasley said. Georgia has seen 18 hospitalizations related to flu, including five more in the latest report, but so far no deaths, according to the Georgia Division of Public Health. Many of the confirmed Georgia cases are due to influenza B, according to state and CDC reports.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver and East Central Health District Director Ketty Gonzalez will visit Warren Road Elementary School on Thursday as part of an effort to help get kids vaccinated against the flu.
Copenhaver will deliver a proclamation declaring Dec. 5-12 as Augusta Influenza Immunization Awareness Week, which coincides with a national effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to highlight next week as an flu immunization awareness week.
The Richmond County Health Department is offering flu shots for those that want them. The main clinic at 950 Laney-Walker Boulevard is offering shots from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The South Augusta clinic at 2420 Windsor Spring Road is offering shots Monday through Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., on Thursday from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The shots are $25 and the nasal mist vaccine is $35. Medicare and Medicaid provide coverage for the vaccine but patients should bring those cards with them.