State tops nation in flu cases

Georgia reports highest rate of infections so far



Flu is taking off in Georgia more than any other state, just as the public health department returns to Richmond County schools to try to get more children vaccinated.

In the flu surveillance report for the week that ended Nov. 20, Georgia is the only state reporting a high level of flu sickness, 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 influenzalike illnesses increased tremendously in the third week of November," said Dr. Ketty Gonzalez, the director of the East Central Health District, based in Augusta.

The increased sickness 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, a county nurse manager.

For those 9 years old and younger who have never had a flu shot, it takes two doses to get an adequate response, she said. After those doses are administered, Richmond County will have immunized more than 4,300 students, Bryant said.

Getting children vaccinated is important, not only to protect them but also to help prevent the spread of flu because they 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 level of cases 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. Though influenza is unpredictable, "we normally do not see our majority of cases until after the start of the new year.

"Usually we don't peak until around February in South Carolina in a typical flu season."

Georgia could be benefiting from its surveillance network -- the state has 77 providers reporting influenzalike illness cases, and 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, an elderly woman in the Midlands area, Beasley said. Georgia has seen 18 hospitalizations related to influenza, 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 because of influenza B, according to state and CDC reports. All of the viruses that have been typed are virus strains that were included in this year's flu shot.

'Flu week' to be set

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 children vaccinated against the flu.

Copenhaver will deliver a proclamation declaring Dec. 5-12 Augusta Influenza Immunization Awareness Week, which coincides with a national effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to highlight next week as a flu immunization awareness week.

The Richmond County Health Department is offering flu shots:

  • Main clinic, 950 Laney-Walker Blvd., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • South Augusta clinic, 2420 Windsor Spring Road, 8-10 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 7-10 a.m. and 1- 5:30 p.m. Thursday; and 8-10 a.m. Friday

The shots cost $25, and the nasal mist vaccine costs $35. Medicare and Medicaid provide coverage for the vaccine, but patients should bring those cards with them.