Flu-like illness in Georgia and the Augusta area is on the rise but whether it is the actual flu or some other virus is debatable, doctors said. Whatever the malady, it is still prudent to get vaccinated and adopt good practices like frequent hand washing.
Georgia jumped into the “high” activity level for influenza-like illness for the week ending Dec. 24 as the percentage of patients with those symptoms at doctor’s offices around the state increased to 4.3 percent, well above the 2.1 percent threshold, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported.
“We have been seeing a lot of influenza-like illness,” said Audrey Kunkes, influenza surveillance coordinator. The same is true in Augusta, said Dr. Bo Sherwood, medical director of the University Prompt Cares.
“And what we do specifically because of that is we increase our coverage as far as providers to handle the increased influx of patients,” he said. “We’re doing that this week.”
But while patients have been showing up with those symptoms, more sophisticated testing at AU Medical Center shows most of it is not actually flu, said Dr. James Wilde, professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics.
“What we’ve been seeing so far this season is a lot of people with (influenza-like illness) and very few people with flu,” he said. “There are a lot of other viruses that seem to be active right now. If you looked just at ILI activity alone, you might be fooled into thinking there is a lot of flu in town. There’s not.”
It is difficult to tell sometimes what is causing the misery but preventative measures are always a good idea, Kunkes said.
“The best thing to take from this is how you prevent against all of those respiratory illness is to wash your hands and avoid people when you’re sick,” she said.
At the state level, the number of samples testing positive for flu has increased over the last couple of weeks, with 12 percent of the 350 samples testing positive, according to the latest report.
“It’s getting higher and we know that flu is circulating,” Kunkes said. In Augusta, that number is going from maybe one a week through December to three or four a week now, Wilde said.
“That number is starting to rise,” he said. “We are seeing more now than we saw two weeks ago.”
With that in mind, getting a flu shot soon is still a good idea, Sherwood said.
“If you got your flu shot this week or next week, you are still making a great move toward preventing the flu, which is going to be around for several weeks,” he said.
While flu is difficult to predict, now may be just the beginning, Wilde said.
“Within two to four weeks, we are going to have a lot of flu in town,” he said. “It’s that close. It’s not quite here but it is about to be here.”
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