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Flu bug strikes

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POSTED: March 15, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Nearly a third of the people going to see Dr. Christopher Blasy in recent days have had the flu, the Hinesville family practice physician estimates.
That is unlikely to surprise educators, employers and others who work with groups of people.
The number of reported flu cases in the United States remained steady at the start of the 2007-08 flu season, but according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number has "increased more rapidly" in February.
A Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released by the center earlier this month showed 49 states, including Georgia, have now reached the "widespread" flu activity category, meaning at least half the regions within the states have reported flu outbreaks.
Dr. Katie Arnold, an infectious diseases epidemiologist for the state Division of Public Health, said flu has been considered widespread in Georgia for nearly four weeks and doctors around the state are reporting double the number of confirmed cases as last year.
At its peak last year, about 3.5 percent of people who visited doctors in Georgia were there for the flu. This year, the percentage is more than 7 percent, Arnold said.
For doctors in Liberty County, however, the number of patients needing treatment for flu is much higher than the state average.
Blasy said, "I would say probably 20 to 30 percent of the patients that I'm seeing for acute visits have confirmed influenza."
He said that applies to children and adults equally affected.
"That translates from anywhere from two to five patients a day in my office."
Blasy attributed most of the spike to "the flu vaccine coverage was not as good as (health officials) had hoped for."
This season's vaccine is a good match for only about 40 percent of the flu strains in existence and has proven to be ineffective nearly 50 percent of the time, officials with the CDC said.
The vaccine normally protects against 70-90 percent of flu viruses.
The formula for creating the vaccine each year begins in the winter when experts try to predict which strains will circulate the next season so they can develop appropriate vaccines. They choose two strains from the Type A family and one from Type B.
Scientists have correctly matched 16 of the last 19 vaccines, but this year's Type B component has not been a good match for the B strain that has been most common this season.
Additionally, one of the Type A components was a poor match for the Type A H3N2/Brisbane-like strain, which now accounts for the largest portion of lab-confirmed cases.
"So what that basically means," Blasy said, "is that people are still susceptible to strains that are different than what the vaccine is protecting them from."
While the current flu shot has deficiencies, he said getting vaccinated is still a key method to protect against the illness or to have "a less severe and shorter case of the flu" if the virus is contracted.
Having a good hygiene routine and recognizing flu symptoms early are other safeguards for stopping the spread of flu, Blasy added.
"You can help prevent flu with regular hand washing throughout the day if you're in contact with the public," the doctor said. "And if a patient has fever, aches, lots of congestion and cough and they seem to be pretty sick, then getting in earlier is better because we do have a few medications that can help influenza early on."
 

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