Flu increasing but may be peaking

Flu is continuing to increase in Augusta, in Georgia and South Carolina but this severe flu season may be nearing its peak. The prospect of a government shutdown, however, could take away the national surveillance done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as it did during the last shutdown in 2013.

 

Nationally, the percentage of patients reporting influenza-like illness jumped from 5.8 percent to 6.3 percent for the week ending Jan. 13; South Carolina saw 8.58 percent of its patients with flu-like illness and Georgia ended up at 9 percent, said Cherie Drenzek, state epidemiologist for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“It’s really high all across the whole state of Georgia and in fact it is high all across the entire nation,” she said.

A company that makes a “smart thermometer” said it has even more up-to-date and specific information than that. Kinsa, which makes a smart thermometer that can report data to an app, said it is using those anonymous readings to track the flu’s spread at the local and county level. According to its data, 3.9 percent of people in the Augusta area, or 28,800 people, were sick earlier this week, a 36.7 percent increase from the previous week and 62.1 percent compared to the same time the previous year.

By its data, 4 percent of Georgians or 415,000 people, were sick, compared to 3.9 percent or 194,000 in South Carolina. The company said overall illness in Georgia jumped 40 percent between Jan. 3 and Jan. 11.

South Carolina reported nine lab-confirmed deaths, raising its total for the season to 24, while Georgia increased from five to 12 so far this year, Drenzek said.

Depending on what happened Friday, that national perspective could be going away, at least as far as the CDC is concerned. During the last federal government shutdown in 2013, the CDC went a few weeks without doing routine surveillance and only did testing on samples that couldn’t be identified by state or local labs, which left the country with “blindspots” in terms of its flu surveillance, a spokeswoman said at the time. Even if that happens again, the states will continue with their work, Drenzek said.

“The ongoing virologic surveillance is important but at this point in time in the peak of flu season, we certainly wouldn’t expect there necessarily to be a whole brand new flu virus that predominates, unless it is a completely novel one,” she said.

As one CDC expert predicted recently, the season may be reaching its peak now anyway, Drenzek said.

“I think we’re pretty close to peaking,” she said. “The second to third week of January will be the peak and we’ll start to see decreases as well.”

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

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