Flu season is back and, according to local health officials, has affected more people than in the previous year.
At least four flu-related deaths have been reported in LaGrange this year, said Dr. Kenneth Horlander of Emory Clark-Holder Clinic.
However, Hayla Folden at District 4 Public Health said that there are only two confirmed flu deaths in the state of Georgia. The flu can trigger underlying illnesses that a person already has.
Mid-November typically begins the flu season.
“West Georgia Health started seeing flu cases increase the week prior to Thanksgiving and increased for the last two weeks,” said Bonnie Norrick, infection prevention and control manager at West Georgia Health. “Currently we are seeing about 15 to 25 patients a day complaining of Flu symptoms. Of those, we have about 10 to 12 people who tested positive for the flu.”
Hundreds of people have been tested for the flu since November and 30 percent tested positive, Horlander said. Many of those occurred in adults between the ages of 30 to into their 60s.
“The cases we've had that have been really sick have been the middle-aged people, where they get this pneumonia-type pattern,” Horlander said.
Common symptoms of the flu are fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting. Shortness of breath and heavy breathing is potentially a sign of the worse flu symptoms that can cause ARDS – Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome – and can leave many patients a life support machine or ventilator.
Several cases of the H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu, and other severe flu cases have been increasing in LaGrange.
“We're having a worse case of this here in LaGrange than we had in the past,” Horlander said. “I don't recall having this many patients as in prior years. A lot of people are requiring the ICU care and going on the ventilator and they're the ones that have the chance of dying.”
According to Norrick, when a patient arrives with flu symptoms, they are routinely tested for Flu A or B. If a doctor suspects that the patient may have H1N1, an additional test can be done to specifically test for the H1N1 strain.
Health professionals say that extreme cases of flu could be prevented with the flu shot.
“All flu is bad news no matter the name,” said Norrick. “Everyone needs a flu shot. A flu shot does not prevent the flu but is intended to minimize the symptoms caused by the flu.”
All of Horlander's severely sick patients reported not having the flu shot.
“I can't think of anyone that's gotten the flu shot and have gotten really sick,” he said.
Perry Prather, pharmacist at Holmes Pharmacy, said flu vaccinations have been dispersed at about the same rate as last year and added that residents should get the shot. Other local pharmacies and hospitals also have flu vaccinations available.
Though the flu shot is a helpful aid in the flu, the number one thing people can do in prevention is washing hands.
“Anytime you're in a situation where you're shaking hands or touching doorknobs you should think about washing your hands for at least 15 seconds,” Horlander said. “Don't touch your face and avoid contact with people if possible.”
He said any who thinks they may have the flu should see their doctor or go to an emergency room immediately.
“A lot of these people were sick and didn't do anything about it, and now, several weeks later, they're coming into the ER feeling sicker,” Horlander added.