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Flu activity in Southwest Georgia trending down

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital employees line up Oct. 1, 2012 for flu shots. The vaccine is recommended for those six months and older as the most effective way of preventing the illness.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital employees line up Oct. 1, 2012 for flu shots. The vaccine is recommended for those six months and older as the most effective way of preventing the illness.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health said Friday that the state is now in the midst of a flu epidemic in a season in which the illness is hitting the state harder than it has in nearly a decade.

In spite of that, officials in Southwest Georgia say that flu activity in the region currently appears to be trending downward.

However, since flu generally peaks in January and February, the region might not be out of the woods yet.

"Flu cycles go up and down," said Dr. Jacqueline Grant, director of the Southwest Public Health District. "Looking at the activity, it (appears) like it is going down.

"I can't say that we have reached our absolute peak."

The word from officials at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital regarding the activity at its emergency center also indicates that the illness's circulation is leveling off, at least for the time being.

"Cases of the flu are still clearly prevalent in the emergency center at Phoebe," said Todd Braswell, director of the hospital's emergency center. "But there has been no significant increase or decrease in flu cases."

The predominant strain of flu circulating in Georgia and around the country is H3N2. That particular strain, and an earlier start to the flu season this year, could be attributed to the higher activity, Grant said.

So far, two adult flu-related deaths have been reported in Georgia this season, state officials said Friday. Officials emphasize that it is important to take preventative measures now to minimize the effects of the flu and stay healthy, including getting a flu shot -- which is recommended for every healthy individual over the age of six months.

Grant, and state officials, also say that this year's vaccine is a close match to the viruses that are circulating -- making it effective in preventing the flu or minimizing its symptoms and duration.

"Every indication is that it has been a good match," Grant said.

The vaccine takes two weeks to take hold. This year's vaccine does include the H3N2 strain, but viruses do have a tendency to mutate and change over time, Grant said.

Frequent and thorough hand-washing with warm water and soap will help protect a person from the flu as will alcohol based gels. Covering the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing in a tissue or the crook of the elbow or arm, and avoiding touching the face, can also help minimize spread of the disease, officials say.

Those who are sick are encouraged to stay home from school or work. Flu sufferers should be free of a fever without the use of a fever reducer for at least 24 hours before returning to work or school. Those caring for a sick individual at home should keep them away from other people as much as possible, and keep the sick person away from common areas of the house.

No one should visit the sick person other than the caregiver. It is further recommended that the sick room and the bathroom be cleaned once a day with household disinfectant and to clean linens, eating utensils and dishes used by the sick person thoroughly before reusing, officials say.