This flu season is different than previous years because of the sheer volume of people who are getting sick, according to several North Fulton doctors.
Dr. Richard Ellin, who works at Kaiser Permanente Alpharetta Medical Offices, said in the past two or three years, he'd see the occasional flu patient, maybe one or two a week.
"This year, we are seeing anywhere from three to six a day and that's just me," Dr. Ellin said. "Fifteen to twenty percent of my day is the flu or complications from the flu.
"Another thing is, we are seeing many more people who have got the flu shot who have gotten the flu," he said.
That's because the Influenza H3n2 strain has mutated into something that wasn't included in this year's vaccine, according to Dr. Stephen Martiny, a primary care physician with North Fulton Primary Care in Roswell.
Overall, the flu is "prevalent throughout metro Atlanta, and really throughout Georgia, and really pretty much throughout the whole country," Dr. Ellin said.
Dr. Martiny said it hasn't been as bad in the patients he sees because he believes they're going to urgent care facilities and the ER for the most part.
"It's a little worse than last year," he said. But "he Northeast was hit the worst and it's going to filter its way down and then out West."
CDC Says the Flu Season Is Still Here
Almost every state in the country has been hit harder than it has in several years, Dr. Ellin said. He's not aware anybody or any hospital has declared a state of emergency like has happened in the northeast, but it's definitely hit very hard here.
The Trust for America's Health (TFAH) found fewer than half of Americans ages 6 months and older were vaccinated against the flu in the last two flu season (2010-11 and 2011-12). In Georgia, the numbers are even worse, with only 38.5 percent of state residents getting flu shots. Seniors age 65 and older are in the only age group with more than 50 percent of the population getting inoculated. The state ranks 18th with 68.6 percent of seniors getting flu shots.
"Me and my colleagues talk about this all the time because we are really puzzled why it's so low," Dr. Ellin said.
The doctor said he could only speculate, but part of the low figures could be because the last three or four winters had mild flu seasons. After several mild seasons, people are less likely to get a flu shot.
"I know there are some people who think that getting a flu shot can give them the flu, or make them sick," Dr. Ellin said.
There is no way the flu shot can give you the flu, he said.
Dr. Martiny agreed, "It’s a dead virus, so, no, you don’t get [the flu] from the vaccine."
The state is also more socially conservative and independent minded – "nobody is going to tell me what to do, whether it's my government, my doctor or my spouse," said Dr. Ellin, about why some avoid the shot.
While the flu season generally starts around November or so, but it usually lasts until March or April, and sometimes until May. It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to provide protective immunity, Dr. Ellin said. Even getting a shot now still gives months of protection, he said.
Experts also expect the Influenza B virus might make a return since the season started earlier than usual this year.
The flu shot "is still worth getting," said Dr. Martiny. "The shot decreases the severity and duration of the flu. Even if you get [the flu despite having gotten the shot] usually runs its course for seven to nine days and the symptoms are less intense. Without a flu shot you'll feel all those symptoms and you could still have that hacking dry cough for up to 18 days."
About two out of three people this year who get the flu shot are not going to get the flu, Dr. Ellin said. The pros and cons still weigh heavily in your favor in getting the shot.
How else can a person avoid the flu?
- "Keep your face very clean," said Dr. Martiny. "Don't touch your face with your hands.
- "The most important thing is to wash their hands frequently, either with soap and water or hand sanitizer," Dr. Ellin added.
- Because it takes two or three days to start showing symptoms, it's likely you've already been exposed if a family members gets the flu. However, both doctors says to stay away from anyone who has the flu as much as possible for the first two or three days.
If a person thinks they have the flu, they should call their doctor to decide if they have the flu or not. Dr. Martiny recommends going to an urgent care clinic to get medicine that will help in the first 48 hours. Tamiflu works pretty well to minimize the symptoms and shorten the duration.
"People should remember that the flu is potentially very serious. Every year people die from the flu. It's not always the very young or very old," Dr. Ellin said. "Every fall they should get a flu shot."
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