Influx of flu cases reported

A month after the flu appeared to be on its way out, a second wave is peaking across Georgia this week and swamping Augusta clinics and emergency rooms.

But probably not all of that illness is flu, and it could be a host of other viruses in the mix making people sick, doctors said.

The pediatric emergency room at the Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center that normally sees 60 patients a night saw 111 on Thursday night and is probably on its way to a record month, Medical Director James Wilde said.

"We're getting flooded," Dr. Wilde said. "The volumes are overwhelming."

University Hospital's Emergency Department saw 282 patients Wednesday and diverted ambulances to other places for a time when it got too full, said Bob Kepshire, the director of emergency and community services at University.

"There's a lot of sick folks out there," he said.

Doctors Hospital has been seeing a 20 percent increase in the last couple of weeks and is blaming that on the flu-like illness, spokeswoman Julie Plummer said.

"It's been very busy," said Dr. Gerry O'Meara, an emergency medicine physician at St. Joseph Hospital.

The state saw an early peak of flu in December but has seen an even bigger peak now, said Kate Arnold, a medical epidemiologist with the Georgia Division of Public Health.

"In the eight years I've been here, this is the first time I've seen it," she said. Late season flu surges are often caused by the influenza B strain of the virus, and Dr. Arnold noted that strain infects children and adolescents more than adults.

"What's new, what's different since the middle of January, is we're starting to see more and more influenza-like-illness showing up in somewhat older kids, and starting to see it in adults," Dr. Arnold said.

But all that is probably not because of the flu, and more vomiting is showing up than usually can be expected with classic flu, Dr. Wilde said, which could mean something else, like an adenovirus.

The state also has documented more cases of norovirus, sometimes called winter vomiting illness, that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, Dr. Arnold said.

"It's just a big mix of stuff," Mr. Kepshire said. And regardless of which virus it is, there is little treatment for it other than treating the symptoms, doctors said. So those without serious breathing problems or dehydration, who are not at high risk from the flu, might be better off staying at home and riding it out, physicians said. And certainly they should not demand an antibiotic because it could result in a drug-resistant infection later on, Dr. Wilde said.

"And now you've got yourself into a bigger quandary than you would have in the first place," he said.

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

TAKING PRECAUTIONS

Regardless of whether it is flu or some other virus circulating around town, doctors say prevention is key.

- Frequent handwashing is always encouraged.

- Avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose if possible.

- Avoid contact with those who are sick and avoid spreading it to others if you are sick. It is particularly important for parents of newborns to be vigilant.

- If you get the flu, stay home.