Real flu season should start soon

After an early surge of influenza, cases in Georgia and across the country appeared to dip a bit, according to flu reports this week.

 

One Augusta expert said that the season got off to "almost a false start" because of an unusually early appearance of influenza B strains, but that the full blast is probably only weeks away.

Georgia is one of only four states reporting a high level of influenzalike cases for the week that ended Jan. 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.

The state, however, dropped from the highest level of distribution of flu cases, called widespread, to the next-highest level, regional, because most were concentrated in metro Atlanta and south Georgia, according to an e-mail from Joye Burton, of the Georgia Department of Community Health.

The region that includes Georgia and South Carolina is the only one reporting an elevated level of flu right now, according to the CDC's FluView report.

Four children's deaths because of flu were added this week, bringing the total for the year to eight, the report stated; 282 children died last flu season.

Georgia has had five deaths this flu season, and South Carolina six, but neither state has had a pediatric death, according to reports this week.

Many of the sick kids showing up recently at the Emergency Room of Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center have not had fever but have had "profuse runny nose," said Dr. James Wilde, a pediatric emergency medicine physician and flu expert.

"Profuse running nose is generally not one of the major symptoms, particularly at the beginning of a flu illness. Usually at the beginning of flu, it is fever, cough or sore throat," he said.

That might explain why the state is reporting a high level influenzalike illness but relatively little in positive cases.

"The problem is that ILI (influenzalike illness) is very nonspecific," Wilde said. "There are a lot of viruses that circulate in the winter that mimic flu but are not flu."

The surprisingly early appearance and prevalence of influenza B viruses might have led to an early surge in cases that is now falling back a little bit, he said.

The number of samples submitted to the CDC that actually tested positive for flu declined from more than 25 percent late last year to 16 percent for the first week of January, according to FluView; the number of positive B samples declined from more than 500 a week to fewer than 200.

"As B is now fading, A hasn't really caught on yet," Wilde said. "I don't think we're truly in the midst of the full-blown flu season. I think we've had almost a false start.

"We will have a full-blown flu season. And my guess is it is no more than two to four weeks away. But I don't think we are quite there yet."

Tracking the flu

The hospitals in the Augusta region are sharing information about influenza. You can follow reports about flu in the region, the state and the country by going to: http://www.ga-gline.org/

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