CDC reports more deaths, rising hospitalizations 

Feb 02, 2018

The death toll continues to rise from flu-related deaths this season, and flu activity remains widespread in most of the country, including Georgia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 16 pediatric flu-related deaths in the United States reported this week by the CDC. This brings the total number of pediatric flu-related deaths to 53 for the season. Most of the children who died — 80 percent — had not been vaccinated against the flu. The CDC also said the hospitalization rate is the highest since 2010. 

"We have not hit our peak yet, unfortunately," said Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the CDC said Friday at a press conference. "Really, the bottom line is there is still likely many more weeks to go." 

Here during the fourth week of the year which runs Jan. 21 through Jan. 27., there were 120 hospitalizations in metro Atlanta due to influenza, up from 115 hospitalizations during the previous week.

There has also been a total of 51 confirmed influenza-related deaths in Georgia this flu season, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. That is up from a total of 25 last week. The 51 people who died includes the following: one child; 7 people between the ages of 18 and 51; 7 people between the ages of 51 and 64 and 36 people over the age of 65.

Dr. Hany Atallah stands inside a mobile emergency room set up outside Grady Memorial Hospital to help handle the ever-growing number of flu cases in Atlanta, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The trailer, called Carolinas MED-1, has 14 beds and will sit outside the hospital's main emergency room for 30 days to alleviate wait times and bed shortages. It opens to patients the next day. Photo: AP Photo/David Goldman

The serious flu season has led to crowded local hospital emergency rooms and spot shortages of antiviral medications to fight flu, such as Tamiflu. Grady Memorial Hospital has added a temporary mobile ER to handle influxes of flu cases.

Dr. Dan Salinas, Chief Medical Officer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said while the flu season is serious, he urged parents not to panic.

While many parents are terrified as they read stories about otherwise healthy children dying quickly from the disease, Salinas emphasized the vast majority of children and adults who get the flu fully recover from the illness with a lot of TLC, fluids, rest, fluids and medication, depending on recommendation from doctor.

“I would say to parents please don’t panic,” Salinas said in a phone interview. “While this a very bad flu season, there is so much you can to help prevent influenza. . .and steps you can take if your children do get ill.”

Those older than age 65 are experiencing the highest hospitalization rates for the flu, but those ages 50 to 64 also have seen high numbers, according to the CDC. In the past week, hospitalizations of children under 5 have almost doubled. FILE PHOTO Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Salinas also stressed it’s not too late to get a flu shot. And while there’s reports of this year’s effectiveness being less than 40 percent, experts say even when the vaccine is a less than optimal match, the vaccine can still help lessen the severity of the flu, and reduce the chance of experiencing severe complications from the flu. Getting a vaccine can also reduce the length of the flu if you do get sick.

Other steps you can take to prevent the spread of the flu — frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water. (If water is not available, alcohol-based gels are the next best thing.) Wipe down hard surfaces including grocery carts, and avoid being around people who are sick.

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.

MORE: Flu season to be worst in a decade

This season, the predominant flu strain is H3N2, a form of influenza A. This flu strain is associated with more severe illness, especially among children and the elderly. This strain is included in this year’s flu vaccine, but viruses can change and this particular strain tends to mutate more than other strains.

The H3N2 strain also circulated during the 2014-2015 season, another severe season for flu.

MORE: 8 things you need to know about this year’s really bad flu season

The flu can have a range of symptoms and effects, from mild to severe and can include sore throat, runny nose, vomiting, and body aches. 

While healthy people — including children — can recover from the flu without problems sometimes, your body may not be able to fight off the flu on its own. (See below for tips on when to go to ER)

For kids already showing flu-like symptomsChildren’s Healthcare of Atlanta suggests contacting or visiting your primary care physician or pediatrician prior to visiting an Emergency Department unless you feel your need is an emergency. In many cases, the flu can be treated at home unless symptoms are severe. Because the flu is a virus, it needs to run its course, which means lots of TLC and rest. At-home flu care tips include:

Children's ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Advil or Tylenol) can be given to help reduce fever and ease body aches. Remember, aspirin and aspirin-containing products should not be given to children or adolescents who have flu-like symptoms, unless instructed by a physician to be given for other medical reasons.

Offer plenty of fluids to help prevent dehydration -- soft fruits, blended frozen juice drinks, and ice pops can also be given if your child gets tired of water.

Encourage rest and couch time. 

A humidifier in your child's room can help break up nasal and chest congestion.

Visit choa.org/flu for more information.

When to seek immediate medical attention:  

In many cases, simple home remedies including drinking plenty of water and other clear liquids to prevent dehydration, and resting at home is all you need to recover from the flu. But there are times when the flu can lead to serious complications, and medical attention is needed. The following signs may indicate that your body may not be able to fight off the flu on its own:

Difficulty breathing

Chest or stomach pain

Dizziness or lightheadedness

Severe vomiting

These red flags are the same for adults and children. However, with sick kids, seek emergency medical treatment when the following takes place: 

Fatigue or irritability that does not respond to consoling

Confusion or headache that doesn’t go away

Neck stiffness 

Back pain or weak legs or feet. 

Severe muscle pain and/or red urine. 

MORE: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta chart to help decide whether your child needs to see a doctor for the flu.