Friday, Jan. 11, 2013
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It's painful, highly contagious and sometimes even deadly. If you've had the flu already this season, you know all too well.
While experts say cases in our area are on the decline, that does not mean you're safe.
Flu season came early for our area, but we're still at the epidemic level in Georgia, and just because you've had it once, doesn't mean you won't get it again.
"One can get influenza more than once in a flu season. In fact, as many as three -- and if we want to include Influenza C-, maybe even four times," said Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Gerald Gordon.
That's not very comforting news, especially if you've already had the virus once.
For hundreds of people in our area, that's been the case, but doctors say this is no normal flu season.
"This strain of influenza, H3N2, appears to be a more lethal, more virulent and more serious infection that we've seen in past years," Gordon said.
"This season has actually been the worst in the last ten years, and there's actually been deaths associated with that," said GRU Family Medicine Clinic Medical Director Janis Coffin.
In Georgia, there have been two flu-related deaths. Neither were in our area.
The flu hits closer to home in South Carolina. Two people have died in Aiken and one in Barnwell County.
While Tresa Welch didn't die from the nasty bug, she said it was almost as bad.
"Death warmed over. It was real bad. Everything hurts. Your hair, your eyes, your nose. Everything hurts," she said.
The flu peaked back in November in our area, a very early flu season, according to most experts.
"Influenza has come through this area very aggressively. It has caused a great deal of illness, a large number of people coming to emergency rooms," Gordon said.
It's become so widespread that hospitals are restricting visitors.
"If you're under the age of 18, you can't come into the hospital, and if you have any symptoms whatever, whether it's fever, cough, sore throat, we're recommending that people don't come into the hospital," Coffin said.
If you don't want to catch the flu, doctors say the answer is simple.
"A flu shot works. A flu shot's a very efficient, very cheap and very safe way to prevent from getting the flu," Gordon said.
"Whether you're a 100 years old down to six months of age, everyone should come in and receive their influenza vaccine," Coffin said.
Doctors say the getting the vaccine and washing your hands is even more important if you're traveling because strains can be different from state to state, and experts say your steering wheel is probably one of the dirtiest things you'll come in contact with.
However, the vaccine is not 100 percent effective. The CDC says this year's vaccine is 62 percent effective, but they still say it's your best bet against the flu.