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5 dead, more than 300 hospitalized in Georgia as flu spreads, health officials say

The flu in Georgia is spreading quickly, with hospitals reporting an increase of flu-related cases in recent weeks. 

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More than 300 people have been hospitalized and five people have died from flu-related illnesses since the Georgia Department of Public Health began its 2017-2018 flu surveillance in the first week of October, according to department officials. The five people who died were all elderly and at least three had underlying medical conditions, DPH Director of Communications Nancy Nydam said. 

Last year there were nine flu-related deaths, the previous year there were seven and three years ago there were 28, according to Nydam.

The predominant strain of flu circulating in Georgia and around the country is the H3N2 form of influenza A, a Friday press release said. DPH Commissioner Dr. J. Patrick O’Neal advised that it is not too late to get a flu shot.

“Every individual over the age of six months should get a flu vaccine -- not just for their own protection, but to protect others around them who may be more vulnerable to the flu and its complications,” O’Neal said in a statement. 

Grady Health System’s emergency department visits are up seven to 10 percent because of recent flu or flu-like illnesses, a spokeswoman said. Visitor restrictions, which the CDC has recommended as a prevention strategy, have not yet been implemented.

Beth Hardy, spokeswoman at Gwinnett Medical Center, said they have an adequate supply of medicine to fight the flu, but they also have suppliers on standby should they need to refill in a hurry.

Hardy said the staff is asking anyone with flu symptoms to not visit the hospital “for the safety of our patients.”

WellStar hospitals are not restricting visitations because of the flu, spokesman Tyler Pearson said.

He said they've seen a 10 percent increase in flu-like symptoms this week compared to last week throughout the hospital system's 11 Georgia facilities.

“We have seen an uptick in patients, specifically pediatric patients,” he said.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta said there has been an increase in flu cases in children this season. Confirmed child flu cases at CHOA hospitals have more than doubled over the past few weeks from an average of 12 percent to 28 percent. 

The increase could possibly be explained by fewer children getting flu vaccinations. 

“A number of those children have been admitted to the hospital, where they’ve required hospitalization for assistance with breathing,” Dr. Andi Shane told the station. “Also, one of the other problems that’s associated with flu infections is hydration and difficulty taking in fluids."

CHOA is currently under visitor restrictions to protect patients from the cold and flu season, a spokeswoman said. 

If a child shows severe symptoms, they should be taken to a pediatrician and then the emergency room if necessary, doctors say. 

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