With the school routine back in full swing after fall break, metro Atlanta parents are busy with such related activities as checking school bus or carpool schedules, school athletic practice and game schedules and many other activities they deem important.

However, is the same amount of time and attention given to these tasks also given to a job that is more important than any, family health?

Flu season and the school year go hand in hand and, according to Dr. Belkis Pimentel, the physician’s program director at Kaiser Permanente, many physicians view this flu season as being worse than last year.

During the 2018-19 flu season, Georgia was hit harder by the flu virus than most other states. The H3N2 flu virus, the predominant strain that was circulating in Georgia, was responsible for 154 reported patient deaths, according to Georgia Health News.

In addition, the percentage of Georgia outpatient visits related to an influenza-like illness was 7.4% in the state, compared to 4.1% nationwide.

Pimentel, who has been with Kaiser Permanente for 10 years, said all children beginning at age 6 months, who have not already had their injection of the flu vaccine, should get their flu shot before the end of October and not wait until flu season officially begins next month.

“After one is given the flu vaccine, it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, and one needs to be fully protected when November arrives,” she said.

Flu season ends in February, but activity can last as late as May, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s websites. As to how severe the flu season will likely be in the U.S. this fall and winter, Pimentel said one needs to look at Australia’s flu statistics. That country has its winter before it begins in the U.S.

“How severe the flu will be during any one upcoming season is hard to accurately predict, but with winter coming to Australia before it does here, we can have some indication of how bad it will be, and the flu was bad in Australia in its winter season,” she said.

To protect both children and adults from the illness, it’s recommended that every member of a household, be administered the flu vaccine.

Dr. Mark Cohen, chief medical officer at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital in Buckhead, agreed, and a news release stated patients are already showing up at local hospitals with the flu.

“By vaccinating yourself, you will protect those who can’t get vaccinated,” Cohen said in a news release. “Having more people with immunity stops or slows the spread of infection and helps decrease the chance of someone who is not immune from coming in contact with an infectious person.”

Pimentel said students and teachers who become ill should remain at home, especially if they have a fever or other flu symptoms, because the flu is highly contagious.

“It is also very important that if a child coughs at school, he or she should use a handkerchief to cough into or cough into their elbow and not on their hand,” she said. “Although the most common flu strain in Georgia is the H3N2 strain, specific flu strains tend to change. So the most prevalent flu strain one year in our state might not be the same the following year.

“However, physicians are afraid we are in for another bad flu season.”


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