Cases of flu, RSV rise in Troup County

Published 8:30 am Saturday, October 29, 2022

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Flu cases are on the rise locally and around the state. In addition to the flu, cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is highly contagious, have also started earlier than usual this year and are spreading rapidly.

Healthcare professionals have provided tips on how to avoid getting both, but some might be weary of the advice as they are strikingly similar to those to avoid COVID.

Locally, the number of flu cases is far greater than the last few years, according to medical care providers.

“It’s been a tremendous increase in cases over the last two years,” said Ryan Gatens, one of the healthcare providers at Urgencare in LaGrange. “We are averaging about 100 to 120 patients daily. About a third of those are positive for flu.”

Exact flu numbers are unknown for the state, as influenza is not a reportable condition in Georgia, except for flu deaths and outbreaks. Georgia has had 13 influenza outbreaks this flu season with one flu-associated death, according to the Department of Public Health (DPH).

Emory Healthcare in LaGrange has also seen an increase in flu cases, according to Marlis Dunlap, DNP.

Dunlap said the first thing to do to avoid influenza is to get your flu shot and get it as soon as you can.

“Get your flu shot because it decreases the risk of severe illness and hospitalization by 50 percent,” Dunlap said. “If you do start having symptoms, it’s important to get medicine like Tamiflu within the first 48 to 72 hours.”

Tamiflu is a prescription-only antiviral, so you’ll need to be seen by a doctor, Dunlap said.

Gatens and Dunlap both said good handwashing will reduce your chances of catching the flu.

Proper social distancing will also reduce your chance of catching or spreading the flu. Many of the recommendations are similar to those with COVID.

“They’ve taken away masking,” Dunlap said. “If you’re going to be in a situation where you might be at a higher risk, you can always resort to using a mask, but social distancing does help.”

“Unfortunately, it’s one of those things, continue to try to use your six-foot rule if you’re going to be in crowded populations,” Gatens said. “Over the next few weeks, if you don’t have to be in a crowded situation, like a funeral or something like that, I wouldn’t suggest going at this point.”

Gatens also suggested taking vitamins to help ensure your immune system is in its best shape.

“From an immune standpoint, make sure that you’re still taking your vitamins, much like we did with COVID cases two years ago, so that your immune system is strong. So, your vitamin B’s, your zinc and your vitamin C,” he said.

Donovan Stephens, epidemiologist with the District 4 Department of Public Health, said flu numbers are going up in all counties throughout Georgia right now.

Stephens said Georgia ended the previous flu season on a high, which has carried forward into this season that began in October.

“We ended the [previous] flu season, pretty much with an all-time high, so once we hit the start of the new season, it’s already going to be higher,” Stephens said.

Georgia started this year with over 6,000 influenza-like illness visits, doubling the previous recorded high. The illnesses are outpacing the previous years’ transmission within the first three weeks of the flu season.

Stephens said the combination of similar respiratory illnesses that are making things worse for those with weaker lungs, but it’s not just COVID.

“COVID numbers are essentially lower than they’ve been in a very long time,” he said. “Right now, it’s other respiratory viruses that are giving us a run for our money.”

RSV, enterovirus and adenovirus all presented early in September, Stephens said.

Stephens said he believes the other respiratory illnesses are hitting people harder —particularly children — because they have been masked up for two years and haven’t had their immune systems tested.

As for RSV, healthcare professionals have reported more than 130 cases per week in Georgia, Many of those cases are attributed to young children. Hospitals have also seen an uptick in RSV cases among infants.

“RSV can wreak havoc on a baby’s respiratory system,” a press release from District 4 Public Health noted Friday.

Most cases in adults are minor with healthy individuals usually recovering within one to two weeks, but it can be serious among adults and infants.

RSV spreads through airborne droplets and on surfaces. It’s much more likely to spread via contact than COVID because it can linger for a few hours on skin and other surfaces, according to the DPH.

The recommendations to avoid RSV are very similar to the flu, COVID and other respiratory illnesses. Frequent handwashing, social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, staying home and even wearing masks are recommended whenever you’re sick.