Flu activity up in Georgia as health officials warn of potentially severe season

Scott Turner, right, gets a flu shot from nurse Nicole Simpson at the Salvation Army in Atlanta during the last flu season.

David Goldman) / Associated Press file

Georgia is seeing a high rate of influenza activity throughout the state so far this season.

As mask wearing, social distancing, remote learning and other COVID-19 mitigation strategies continue to ease, federal and state health officials are watching for a potential uptick in respiratory diseases, including the flu.

The American Medical Association and the Atlanta-based United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu vaccine for everyone age six months and up.  

CDC health scientist Dr. Chastity Walker said it’s especially important for people of color to get their flu shots this year.

“And those groups are less likely to get flu vaccination. And so we really want folks to get a flu shot to reduce the need to go to the doctor or the emergency room and be hospitalized and, worst case scenario, die from the flu,” she said.

Between 2009 and 2022, CDC data show that Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native adults were hospitalized with the flu at higher rates than white adults, with Black adults being 80% more likely to be hospitalized.

Lack of access to health care and health insurance are major factors behind the disparity, according to a recent CDC report.

“When you have greater risks of being hospitalized, you’re also at greater risk of dying from the disease or having longterm sequelae,” said Walker. “But everyone who gets the flu is at risk of being hospitalized or dying from the flu.”

The CDC reports that people aged 65 years and older are at higher risk for serious complications from the flu. People with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems, children under age 2, pregnant and early postpartum women are also at higher risk.

Overall, the CDC estimates the flu has resulted in as many as 52,000 deaths annually in the U.S. between 2010 and 2020.

The state Department of Public Health reports nearly 40 influenza hospitalizations in Georgia for the week ending October 8, 2022, the most recent available data.

“The flu vaccine is extremely effective,” said Dr. Willie Underwood with the American Medical Association, “So the best thing to do at this point is to get vaccinated, protect yourself, protect your family, and protect your communities from the flu.”

To find a flu vaccine by location, search the Georgia Adult Immunization Coalition web site.