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H1N1 uptick concerns Georgia health experts

ALBANY -- The flu-like activity currently being seen in certain areas has some health experts concerned, including those in Southwest Georgia.

Georgia is one of three states, including Alabama and South Carolina, experiencing regional influenza activity.

This is worrisome to health experts for several reasons. First, influenza activity usually winds down at this time of year instead of having an uptick like the one going on now.

"Typically, this is the time of year we see a decline in cases of flu," said Southwest Public Health District Deputy Director Brenda Greene. "However, we are still seeing some Influenza A, mostly H1N1.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking into why Georgia is still seeing cases."

Second, there are a significant number of Georgia residents, including people in and around the Albany area, who haven't gotten the H1N1 vaccine yet.

Eight states, plus Puerto Rico, are seeing local activity. There are no states reporting widespread activity.

"For most everyone else in the country, it is going away," Greene said.

The CDC is expected to look at the activity from the earlier in the pandemic to see what factors could be causing it to be heavier than anticipated at this point in time, Greene said. There has been no mutation detected in the virus thus far.

"They will be looking at everything," the deputy director said.

Regional activity is defined as having particular areas of a state reporting illnesses. Local activity is defined as circulation on a smaller scale, such as with a particular town or school.

Due to sickness and hospitalizations from the infection being on the rise in Georgia, the health district is urging parents to make sure young children have received their second dose of vaccine and that family members who have not yet gotten an H1N1 vaccination do so now.

"The best way to prevent the flu is vaccination," Greene stressed.

A second dose is necessary for children between the ages of 6 months and 9 years for full protection.

More than 1,000 hospitalizations and more than 70 deaths have occurred from flu-like illness in Georgia since H1N1 first surged in April 2009.

There is no out-of-pocket expense for the inoculation, and county health departments in the region still have ample supply. The illness is still a bigger problem for younger populations, Greene said.

Officials recommend vaccinations for children between 6 months and 9 years, pregnant women, people who live with or care for infants younger than 6 months, anyone between 6 months and 24 years and older adults and anyone with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk for flu-related complications.