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Prevent a flu Christmas this year

Microscopic influenza “bugs” are a greater threat than any Grinch to take the joy out of Christmas.

And reported cases of flu are surging in Northwest Georgia and Southeast Tennessee.

During the first two weeks of December (Dec. 1-10), doctors at Primary Healthcare Centers treated 23 confirmed cases of flu, according to Erica Newman, community liaison for PHC.

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Christy Jarvis, RN, administers a flu vaccination to Callie Wiens at the Catoosa County Health Department.

“We’ve already seen a 130 percent spike from the previous month, something along the lines of what is going on at the state and regional levels,” she said last week.

The illness’s symptoms — suddenly having chills and fever, head and body aches, runny nose and dry coughs — can make anyone feel miserable, something that is particularly unpleasant during the holidays.

For the very young, elderly and those with health problems, influenza can be life threatening and require hospitalization for treatment.

“We are seeing increasing cases of both laboratory-confirmed influenza and patients with ILI, influenza-like illness, [in the emergency room] and have had patients admitted as well,” said Silvia McCrary, director of Infection Control at Hutcheson hospital. “Now is still a great time to get a vaccination.”

The Center for Disease Control recently announced that flu season has begun in earnest throughout the state, according to Logan Boss of the Northwest Georgia Public Health District that includes Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties.

“Flu is one of the most, if not the most, unpredictable illnesses, and can put someone flat on their back,” he said. “Influenza vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and loved ones from getting flu, so for those who’ve not gotten vaccinated, this is a wakeup call to visit their health departments, doctor’s offices or pharmacies.”

Boss said a new flu vaccine is formulated annually and that this year’s “appears to be pretty good ... it closely matches the viruses we’re seeing.”

After being inoculated with the vaccine, it takes about two weeks for protective antibodies to develop. Even then there is no guarantee that someone taking the vaccine will be flu-free.

“Of all vaccines, [the flu vaccine] is the least effective,” Boss said. “Influenza vaccine is only about 60-90 percent effective; you can get the flu even if you’ve been vaccinated.”

Amy Carroll, RNBSN and manager of the Catoosa County Health Department, said it is “never too late to talk about the flu” or be inoculated, either by injection or nasal spray.

Carroll said people at high risk of serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant women, those with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and anyone older than 65, are prime candidates for vaccination.

Those who live with or care for someone who is high risk, or anyone who cares for children younger than 6 months of age should be vaccinated to help prevent spreading the flu, she added.

“We continue to have plenty of vaccine available and are doing the student flu project in schools,” Carroll said. “We have given almost 1,500 doses and currently are administering the second dose for those students who are under 8 years of age.”

Tracy Pevehouse, RN and nurse manager for the Walker County Health Department, said her office started offering vaccinations, including a drive-thru clinic where individuals never had to leave their vehicle to be inoculated, in September.

“We were out of vaccines before Halloween,” she said, adding that is good because it means more of the county’s residents have been inoculated.

While she said her agency does not expect its supply of vaccine to be replenished, vaccines are still available from other sources and she advises people to contact local pharmacies or their regular doctor’s office about getting a shot.

“I won’t go without my flu vaccine,” Pevehouse said. “It is the best protection available.”

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