With the flu still labeled widespread in Georgia, public health organizations are imparting valuable information. Along with how to tell if one has the flu or a cold, they also are advising area residents on how to know when flu symptoms worsen and emergency medical treatment is required.
"Flu season begins in early October and can last as late in the year as May," said Cyndi Carter, nurse manager for the Bartow County Health Department. "Flu season in Georgia typically peaks in late January or early February, but each flu season is different, and sometimes it peaks earlier or later.
"Flu activity is currently widespread in the state, and the influenza-like illness (ILI) intensity indicator for Georgia is high — 10 on a scale of 1-10. Same conditions apply to northwest Georgia and Bartow County. So far this season, there have been 15 confirmed influenza-associated deaths in Georgia, and that number is expected to increase."
Usually not appearing until early spring — the close of flu season — a B/Victoria strain is the "predominant" circulating flu virus, Carter shared. Encouraging area residents to receive a flu shot, she added the B/Victoria strain is included in the vaccine.
"We currently have approximately 85 doses of flu vaccine available for the homeless and uninsured in Bartow,” Carter said. “The vaccine will be given at no charge.
“We also still have a small amount of vaccine available for those who are insured. We offer the quadrivalent flu vaccine, which helps protect against four different influenza viruses — two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses."
Recommended for people ages 6 months and older, especially the at-risk groups — children and the elderly — the flu shot is available at the Bartow County Health Department Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Friday, 8 a.m. to noon. Along with encouraging residents to place appointments by calling 770-382-1920, Carter said walk-ins also are welcome.
While the common cold and the flu exhibit similar symptoms, it can be hard to differentiate between the two in the beginning of one's illness.
Although varying in severity, the respiratory illnesses' symptoms can both include aches, fatigue, weakness, sneezing, cough, chest discomfort, stuffy nose and sore throat. Some stark differences between the two are, unlike a cold, the flu usually is accompanied by fever for three to four days, headache and quickly presenting symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website, www.cdc.gov, "Most people who get flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications, such as pneumonia, as a result of flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death. Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu, while pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either influenza virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria.
"Other possible serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure). Flu virus infection of the respiratory tract can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Flu also can make chronic medical problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have flu, and people with chronic heart disease may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu."
Warning signs for flu patients to seek immediate medical care vary between children and adults. The CDC reports some of the shared emergency symptoms include seizures, "fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen" and "worsening of chronic medical conditions."
Emphasized by Carter and the CDC, some of the emergency symptoms for children are fast or troubled breathing, bluish face or lips, ribs retracting with every breath, chest pain, severe muscle pain, dehydration/no urination in a span of eight hours, no tears, dry mouth, not interacting with others, not alert, fever higher than 104 degrees and any fever for children younger than 12 weeks.
The CDC underscores the following emergency warning signs in adults — "difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen; persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse; ... not urinating; severe muscle pain; severe weakness or unsteadiness."