We're in the throes of the flu season, but with months left, doctors are emphasizing it's not too late to get your flu shot.
The flu vaccine remains the best form of defense against the flu, according to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta System Medical Director of Infectious Diseases Dr. Andi Shane and other doctors and experts here and across the country. It's Shane's No. 1 tip for protecting you and your family from the flu.
While getting a vaccine earlier in the season is better, there is still a lot of the season to go and vaccination now could still provide benefit. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection.
Limited testing data is suggesting this year's flu vaccine may not be a good match for Influenza B which is widely circulating right now. It appears to be a better match for Influenza A, which is picking up across the country. But experts stress the vaccine can also offer protection even if you come down with the illness. It lessens the severity of the flu and reduces the chance of experiencing complications, health officials said. Getting a vaccine can also reduce the length of the flu if you do get sick.
Go to HealthMap Vaccine Finder vaccinefinder.org to find a location close to you for a flu shot.
The flu season got off to an unusually early start with sporadic cases emerging in August. The flu season, which usually ramps up in October and peaks between December and February, is now severe and widespread. The season can also extend into May -- like it did the 2018-19 season.
Almost 1 in 10 patient visits (9.6%) to doctors were for the flu during the week ending Dec. 21, according to the latest surveillance report from the Georgia Department of Public Health. That marks a jump from 6.7% the week before.
Flu levels are much higher than around this time during the previous two flu seasons. That includes the brutal 2017-2018 flu season, which turned out to be one of the worst on record in some states. Flu activity didn't surge that season until after Christmas.
Meanwhile, the number of flu-related hospitalizations in metro Atlanta has reached 387 this season, and the number of flu-related deaths in Georgia has climbed to seven. Four of those who have died were 49 or younger. The latest flu surveillance report for Georgia is scheduled to be released later today.
It's unclear whether the flu season will peak early in Georgia and elsewhere or continue to rage.
There are other steps you can to take to avoid getting and spreading the flu. Common sense flu prevention techniques really make a difference. Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water. (If water is not available, alcohol-based gels are the next best thing.) If you are sick, cover your coughs and sneezes with the inside of your elbow or a tissue that is then discarded. Also, don't go to work, and don't have your children go to school, when sick.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET THE FLU
If you do get sick and think you may have the flu, contact your health care provider right away, particularly if you or family members are at high risk for serious flu complications -- young children (under the age of 5), those over 65, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes or asthma. Even young, healthy adults should call their doctor if symptoms don't improve or get worse after three to four days of illness. There are antivirals such as Tamiflu or Relenza that can reduce the duration of flu symptoms but the medication needs to be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to be most effective.
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