The flu season is starting early in Augusta with cases already showing up at University Hospital, an official said Tuesday.
University has had 10 lab-confirmed cases of influenza already and two were serious enough to send patients to the Intensive Care Unit, said Dr. Craig Smith, medical director for infectious disease at University. The flu season doesn’t officially start until Sept. 29, he said. The Georgia Department of Public Health just began its influenza surveillance this week and won’t have its first report until next week, spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said. She checked last week and there were no cases then.
“To hit this early and this hard is unusual,” Smith said. “Why it is unusual hasn’t been worked out. Usually, you don’t see your first bump (in cases) until December.”
Some of the samples were sent to the state lab for typing but it will take a while to get that information back, he said. People started showing up with flu-like symptoms about two weeks ago, with fever, body aches and headaches, he said. The biggest concern now is many have not yet been vaccinated against the virus, Smith said. University was able to vaccinate some of its front-line employee with the small amount of vaccine it had in and is looking now for a larger shipment soon to do all of the rest, he said.
“It’s ahead of our ordering, it is ahead of season. It’s caught us off-guard, too,” Smith said.
In the rest of the country, flu activity is still low with .9 percent of patients reporting influenza-like illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s FluView weekly surveillance. From Aug. 25 to Sept, 14 there were only a total of 290 positive tests, according to CDC data. Georgia Regents Medical Center has not seen a positive flu test yet, spokeswoman Denise Parrish said,
Now is the time to be prepared, Smith said.
“The biggest thing is to know that it is definitely in the community,” he said. Get vaccinated now if possible, Smith said. Remember to cover coughs and sneezes and always practice good hand hygiene and wash hands frequently, he said.