GHA Monitoring Flu Activity

The Georgia Hospital Association is working closely with hospitals to monitor flu activity. Although Georgia has been classified as a high-risk state by the CDC, at this time last year, the number of patients requiring flu treatment was higher, according to GHA members. Overall, the flu has had minimal impact on hospitals’ day-to-day activity, and aside from changes in visitation policies, hospital activity overall remains normal. With last year’s flu season being the worst in a decade, hospitals are well-prepared for a busy flu season.

Flu shots are available, and the CDC recommends getting vaccinated early. This helps stop the spread of the virus and protects seniors and infants who are highly vulnerable to the flu. Precautionary measures such as frequent hand-washing and covering coughs can help stop the spread of flu.

GHA encourages patients to call their health care providers if they are concerned about an illness and to carefully assess symptoms. Individuals who think they may have the flu should follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for when to go to the hospital. As stated on the CDC website, symptoms in adults that warrant an emergency room visit include trouble breathing, chest pain, and persistent vomiting. Those who do not have the flu, but go to the ER, risk catching it from those who do. However, anyone who is concerned about a serious or life-threatening illness should go to the ER.

The Number of Flu Cases in Southwest Georgia Increases

Feb. 12 - More people in southwest Georgia are contracting the flu.  During the week ending Feb. 10, the lab at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital confirmed 38 flu cases, by far the highest weekly total so far this flu season.  In fact, the number of positive tests over the last three weeks exceeds the combined total of the previous 17 weeks of the 2018-2019 flu season.

“It is not uncommon to see an increase in flu activity in February.  While flu season can extend well into spring, it often peaks in February.  It is especially important right now for southwest Georgians to try to minimize the spread of the illness by practicing proper hand hygiene, coughing and sneezing into their elbows, seeking treatment at the onset of flu symptoms and avoiding contact with others as much as possible until they are free of fever for at least 24 hours,” said Steven Kitchen, MD, Phoebe Chief Medical Officer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu activity remains high in Georgia, and cases are increasing throughout our region.  “We have already confirmed 80 flu cases at Phoebe Sumter in February, compared to 60 during the entire month of January,” said Brandi Lunneborg, Phoebe Sumter CEO.  “We want people to know it’s not too late to get a flu shot to protect themselves and their families, and the vaccine remains the best prevention method.”

So far, this flu season has not been as severe as last season.  Last year, flu cases in Georgia spiked throughout the month of January before peaking in early February.  “It’s too early to predict when this flu season will peak.  We simply want people to be aware that flu activity has increased significantly in the last few weeks, and we encourage them to do all they can to avoid the illness,” said Dr. Kitchen.

Flu season visitation restrictions remain in effect at all Phoebe hospitals.  Children under age 18 should not visit the hospital, and patient visitors should be limited to those assisting with the care of the patient.  Learn more about Phoebe’s visitation policy and ways to prevent the flu at www.phoebeflu.com.

New Guidelines for Family and Friends at Memorial Health

To protect our patients, family members, guests and Team Members, Memorial Health is changing its visitation policies during flu season. The revised visitation guidelines below will now be in effect at Memorial:

  • Individuals who are experiencing cold symptoms should not enter patient care areas at Memorial. All visitors should be healthy. No one with flu-like symptoms will be permitted in patient rooms. Flu-like symptoms include fever, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, or upset stomach.
  • Anyone coming into the hospital with flu or cold symptoms should wear a mask. Masks will be available for those who need them.
  • Family members and guests 18 years of age and under will not be allowed to visit patients. Special consideration for sibling visits will be considered on a case-by-case basis, if there are no symptoms.

Local Hospitals Urge Vaccines, Other Preventive Actions as Flu Season Ramps Up

December 11 - As colder months approach, Georgia is experiencing increased levels of influenza (flu) illnesses. Experts at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center and St. Mary's Health Care System are urging area residents to take precautions to protect themselves and their families from the flu this season.

The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by microscopic flu viruses. Anyone can get the flu, even healthy people, and it can cause mild to severe illness and at times can lead to death.

“Serious problems related to flu can happen at any age, but some people are more likely to develop serious complications from the flu,” said Robert Sinyard, M.D., chief medical officer at Piedmont Athens Regional. “Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of certain chronic medical conditions.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people age 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease are all at high risk for flu-related complications.

"Because the flu is so contagious and can have such deadly effects, it's not something to take lightly," said Titus Gambrell, vice president and chief nursing officer at St. Mary's. "People need to protect themselves and their families and, if they do get sick, take steps to reduce the risk of spreading it to others."

Both Gambrell and Dr. Sinyard advise that the most effective way to protect yourself against the flu is to get an annual flu vaccine. The flu vaccine protects your body against what research suggests will be the most common flu viruses that season.

“The flu vaccine works by trigging your immune system to fight flu viruses if you are exposed,” Gambrell said. The flu vaccine can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations, according to the CDC. Flu shots are available at your county health department, physician offices, many pharmacies, and urgent care clinics. 

Aside from the flu shot, other good preventive actions include covering your nose and mouth with the inside of your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze, avoiding close contact with sick people, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.

“If you suspect you have the flu, consider seeing your primary care physician. There are medications, called antivirals that can make flu illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. Antivirals may also prevent serious flu complications,” Dr. Sinyard said. “If your doctor’s office is closed or you can’t get an appointment quickly, urgent care is a good option.”

If you are sick, both Gambrell and Dr. Sinyard advise staying home except to go to the doctor, to reduce the risk of spreading the flu to others.

The flu is contagious for a day or so before symptoms begin and for about 24 hours after a person’s fever breaks. It normally runs its course in 7 to 10 days, although fatigue may last longer.

For more information about the flu or the flu vaccine, visit cdc.gov/flu or talk to a physician. 

Navicent Health is Committed to Proactively Protecting You, Your Family and Your Caregivers During Flu Season

December 10 - With influenza circulating in the community and primarily affecting young people, Navicent Health has set up a first line of defense. Navicent Health has implemented a youth visitation policy for the protection of patients, visitors and staff. 

Effective Monday, December 10, 2018, children must be age 12 or older in order to visit The Medical Center, Navicent Health; Medical Center of Peach County, Navicent Health; Navicent Health Baldwin; Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital, Navicenet Health; and Rehabilitation Hospital, Navicent Health.

"The health of our patients and the community is the highest concern at Navicent Health. Our policies and actions are designed to protect those at greatest risk during the flu season,” said Tom Oliver, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Navicent Health Enterprise Clinical Systems.

Administrators at Navicent Health based the decision to restrict visitation on information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the prevalence of influenza in the region at this time.

Individuals with flu-like symptoms and those who have recently had the flu are encouraged to remain at home and stay away from public areas, including school, work, theaters or other areas where people are in close proximity.

Anyone with symptoms of a cold, or others with immunocompromised health status, are encouraged not to visit the hospital for their own protection as well as that of seriously ill patients.

“We appreciate the community’s understanding and cooperation with these efforts to minimize exposure during this active flu season,” said Dr. Oliver.

Statement from GHA and Children's Hospital of Georgia

September 24 - Last year’s flu season proved to be one of the worst in almost a decade. Hospital emergency rooms (ER) were inundated and handled the influx of patients by adding extra staff and resources, including a mobile ER at Grady Health System.

GHA is working closely with state agencies and hospitals to prepare for the upcoming flu season, which is October through May,” said GHA President Earl Rogers. “Flu shots are already available and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October. Not only does it protect you, it helps stop the spread of the virus and protects seniors and infants who are highly vulnerable to the flu.”

Augusta University Medical Center and its Children’s Hospital of Georgia – the state’s public academic health system – saw an increase of as many as 100 patients a day in the ER with flu or flu-like symptoms during the peak of the 2017-18 season.

James Wilde, M.D., an Augusta-based emergency physician and infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Georgia, says getting the flu vaccine is the first line of defense. Other precautionary measures, such as staying away from sick people, frequent hand-washing and covering coughs, can help stop the spread of flu.

Though hospitalizations were up last year, most healthy people do not require a visit to the doctor for the flu, Wilde points out.

“A few days of bed rest accompanied by lots of fluid and Tylenol or Motrin should suffice. Unless you have underlying conditions or are over age 65, you just have to let it run its course.

“Another key point for the public to understand is that antibiotics kill bacteria but will do nothing for the flu and, potentially, could make things worse,” says Wilde. “The flu is a virus, and even antivirals, like Tamiflu, may only shorten symtoms by a day or two. That diference may be important for people with underlying medical conditions but is hard to justify in the healthy.”

Individuals who think they may have the flu should follow the recommendations of the CDC for when to go to the hospital. According to the CDC, symptoms in adults that warrant an emergency room visit include trouble breathing, chest pain, and persistent vomiting. Those who do not have the flu, but go to the ER, risk catching it from those who do. However, anyone who is concerned about a serious or life-threatening illness should go to the ER.

Flu activity in the U.S. is low now, but it is expected to pick up in the Fall. Once that happens, hospitals statewide will begin implementing policies to safeguard visitors, including preventing children under the age of 12 from visiting loved ones who are patients.