The Georgia Department of Human Resources reported the first confirmed case of the seasonal flu, or influenza virus, on Dec. 28 after the illness was found in a DeKalb resident.
The Coastal Health District, which serves Bryan and all the coastal counties, said there were probably a number of people who were infected with the flu prior to the first confirmed incident – and there will be more unconfirmed cases to follow.
"It’s not one of those things that is reportable to the Health Department, and a lot of people who get the flu don’t go to the doctor. And even if they do go, their doctor will probably prescribe medication or antibiotics and will not take a culture of the illness," said Ginger Heidel, public information officer for the Coastal Health District.
Taking a culture and sending it to the Center for Disease Control is the only way to officially confirm a case of the flu, Heidel explained.
"The seasonal flu is just one of those things that’s impossible to quantify. But we do know we have flu in the area, because we’re hearing from doctors and people in the community that they’ve seen or had it," Heidel said. "The only reason doctors would send the culture away is if they really wanted to be sure it was the flu, because of the patient. The Center for Disease Control also uses flu cultures they receive to help develop the annual flu vaccine, but it is all on a voluntary basis and doctors do not have to send cultures in from flu patients."
Nurse Manager Joanne Burnsed of the Bryan County Health Department said the county will continue offering flu shots until the end of the cold weather season.
"This is our primary flu season right now," Burnsed said.
Vaccinations are available for a fee of $25; Medicaid and Medicare clients should bring their insurance information with them. The offices are located at 430 Ledford Street in Pembroke and 9665 Ford Avenue in Richmond Hill. The hours are Monday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and Wednesday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call 653-4331 for the Pembroke office or 756-2611 for the Richmond Hill office.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), anywhere from five to 20 percent of the national population contracts flu viruses, over 200,000 people are hospitalized due to flu complications and 36,000 die from the flu each year.
Flu symptoms can include a high fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches and stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, said the CDC. If conditions worsen and go untreated, flu complications can include bacterial pneumonia, ear and/or sinus infections, dehydration and the worsening of chronic medical conditions, including congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.
The flu is spread mainly from person to person by coughing or sneezing or by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching the mouth or nose area; one of the easiest preventive measures is lots of hand washing. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others starting one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick, the CDC said.