“It sucks,” county Chairman Tim Lee told fellow board members Thursday when they were asked if they had questions or comments about the flu.
The comment drew laughs from the board and others in attendance, but the chairman’s situation was no laughing matter. Lee returned to work this week after spending four nights in WellStar Kennestone Hospital recovering from the flu.
Lisa P. Crossman, director of Cobb & Douglas Public Health’s Center for Clinical & Prevention Services, said that with a heavy early onset to flu season this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially expected to see flu cases slow down earlier. But now she expects flu season to extend through March and into April.
“We are still seeing heavy reporting of diagnosed flu and flu-like illnesses,” she said. “We expect February to be a heavy month, and we expect March to be a heavy month.”
Crossman said flu shots are still available at the health department, as well as drug stores and through doctors. But she cautioned that the shots only cover three of the 20 strains of flu.
The early flu season saw high demand for medical services in the area. WellStar Health System reported 1,025 influenza cases at its five hospitals, three of which are in Cobb, in December. That was 37 times the number of cases reported in December 2011.
Flu shot mostly ineffective
For those 65 and older, this season’s flu shot is only 9 percent effective against the most common and dangerous flu bug, according to a startling new government report released to the Associated Press on Thursday.
Experts say the preliminary results for seniors are disappointing and highlight the need for a better vaccine.
For all age groups, the vaccine’s effectiveness is moderate at 56 percent, which is nearly as well as other flu seasons, the CDC said Thursday.
For those 65 and older, it is 27 percent effective against the three strains in the vaccine, the lowest in about a decade but not far below what’s expected. But the vaccine did a particularly poor job of protecting older people against the harshest flu strain, which is causing most of the illnesses this year. CDC officials told the Associated Press it’s not clear why.
Worst may be over
WellStar spokesman Keith Bowermaster said January figures weren’t available Thursday, but that doctors there believe they have seen the worst of the year’s flu season.
“We estimate that we are seeing less than 10 patients per day across the system with influenza,” Bowermaster said.
After the meeting, Lee said he learned a good deal from his illness. Not only does he wash his hands often, he recites the words to “Happy Birthday” twice to make sure he does it long enough. He also coughs into his elbow and tries to get sufficient rest.
“Every time you’re in a bathroom, every time you walk by a sink, wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” he said. “I’m going to be more conscious about incorporating those habits.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story