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S.W. Georgia flu season is kicking in

ALBANY, Ga. -- Based on the activity at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's emergency center, it looks like this might be the year to get a flu shot.

Dr. Joel Holcombe, an emergency medicine physician at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, said the overall emergency center patient volume over the last five days has been 1,000 people, around 200 a day.

Typically, officials would expect to see a daily volume of about 160. In the last two weeks, officials say there has been a 20-30 percent increase in volume at the emergency center.

"This is not a typical flu season," said Holcombe. "It usually doesn't hit until later."

Holcombe said the Influenza A strain has made up many of the cases, with some cases of Influenza B. Among those who have received the flu vaccine but have come into the hospital with the flu, many have had a strain not among the two included in the vaccine, the physician said.

Usually, such a peak would not be expected until January or February rather than the October and November timeframe seen in the region this year. On Wednesday alone, Holcombe said there were 40 positive flu tests that came through Phoebe's emergency center.

"I don't think I've ever seen it this early," he said. "Last year, we tested and tested and were taken aback as to how long it took to get a positive test."

Good hand hygiene and staying home when sick will keep people from getting or spreading the disease, but the best way to prevent the spread of flu is to get inoculated, experts say.

"This is the typical time of year people would get the vaccine," Holcombe said. "If you get the vaccine year after year, it will protect you in future years.

"If people would react to it and get (the flu shot) early, it would nip (the activity in later weeks) in the bud."

Getting a flu shot does not necessarily guarantee a person will not get the flu, but those who get it after receiving the vaccine usually have a milder case. It typically takes two weeks following inoculation for the vaccine to become effective, experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.

The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone six months and older. Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, a dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Public health officials have said that stomach symptoms are also common, especially in children.

Proper hand hygiene, experts say, means using soap and warm water and rubbing the hands under running water for at least 15 seconds -- or using an alcohol-based gel if soap and water are not available. It is also recommended to cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw it away immediately afterwards, or cough or sneeze into the elbow, not into the hand.

Experts further advise people to get the proper amount of sleep, eat right and exercise, which can make a person less susceptible to viruses that can cause flu.