“Last year we didn’t have any cases of influenza. Last week we had five cases, and we had three more people test positive for the flu this morning,” reported Cathy Strever, office manager at Foothills Family Medicine, on Monday.
Neighborhood Health Care had 15 confirmed cases of the flu last week and about 30 with flu-like symptoms, said medical assistant Patty Lingerfelt.
“We had hardly any last year. This year we’re really getting hit with it,” she said.
Michelle Cantrell, office manager at Dahlonega Family Practice reported 35 patients coming to their office tested positive for the flu last week.
“And that’s only the ones who tested positive, not the ones with flu-like symptoms who probably would have tested positive two days later,” she said. “It’s the worst I’ve seen, and I’ve been here eight years. Last year we had three test positive all year.”
Cantrell said this outbreak has hit sooner than in years past as well. The week after Christmas is usually the peak time, she said.
“This is going to be a rough winter. Having so many people travel around the country for Christmas and New Year’s isn’t going to help.”
At Lumpkin County High School school nurse Aprile Osborn said she sent about 30 teens home with flu-like symptoms last week.
“We don’t diagnose here, but they had body aches, headaches, coughing and usually a low grade fever, although some were running a temperature of 102 [degrees],” she said.
The high school is averaging about 100 students per day absent.
At the middle school the case is even worse. School nurse Susan Horne said there were 130 students out on Monday. “And I’m still sending them home,” she said.
The county’s elementary schools seem to be faring somewhat better. Blackburn’s school nurse Cami McCarty said she’s had “a handful of parents call to tell me their kids have the flu, and I sent two or three home last week with flu-like symptoms.”
There were 60 or so students out Monday. “But who knows if they have the flu or not. Our kids in the elementary grades catch everything, and many parents don’t always take their kids to the doctor every time they come home with something.”
Long Branch Elementary had 37 and Lumpkin County Elementary 38 students out on Monday, cause unknown.
Dr. Gene Westmoreland cares for patients at the local nursing home and reports no cases of flu in that population, nor in the nursing homes he services in White County or Gainesville. But, he adds, nearly all his patients have had their flu shots.
Conversely, Cantrell said everyone who tested positive for flu at her office had not had their flu shot.
Flu season can run as late as May, so it’s not too late to get a flu shot. It is especially important to be vaccinated if you are 50 years or older, have a chronic health condition such as COPD or diabetes, children six months to 18 years, may become pregnant during flu season, or you are a healthcare provider. People who work in another profession where they have a lot of contact with a large number of people, handle money or are around caregivers of children under the age of six months should also consider getting a flu shot.
Flu shots are available at physicians’ offices and the Health Department. Health Department Office Manager Linda Truelove said there are about 100 doses available for adults, but more can still be ordered. There are also plenty of doses for children under 18 years of age, she said.
Adult vaccines cost $25 and Medicare, Medicaid and some insurances are accepted. Child’s vaccines cost $14.80 for any youngster on PeachCare, Medicaid or that is uninsured.
You must make an appointment to get a flu shot. Call 706-867-2727. The Health Department is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and closed noon to 1 p.m. for lunch.