Georgia’s flu-related death toll this season now stands at 66, with two confirmed child deaths, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.
The agency total means that 15 more deaths in the state were confirmed during the week of Jan. 28 through Feb. 3, the latest for which figures are available.
Nationally, 10 more flu-related deaths were reported in children as of that week, bringing the total number of kids who have died of flu-related causes to 63 for the season, which began in October.
The current flu season is “still on the rise,” the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Anne Schuchat, said Friday. Just a few weeks ago, many experts expected it to be past its peak by now.
“We may be on track to break some recent records,” Schuchat said.
The Associated Press reported that this season is now as bad as the swine flu epidemic nine years ago.
The government report shows 1 of every 13 visits to the doctor last week was for fever, cough and other symptoms of the flu. That ties the highest level seen in the nation during the swine flu outbreak in 2009, AP reported.
That year, Georgia recorded 58 deaths.
Schuchat said hospitalizations in the 55-to-64 age group and higher levels of influenza-like illness are where the records will come.
“We don’t have signs of hospitalizations leveling off yet,” she said.
The predominant flu strain this season, H3N2, typically leads to more illnesses and deaths. There are spot shortages of flu-fighting medications, both in Georgia and nationally.
Though cases near the Canadian border and along the West Coast show some signs of easing, there are “likely many more weeks to go,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said.
The CDC again said influenza activity was widespread in 48 states and Puerto Rico for the week. Oregon and Hawaii, the exceptions, both recorded regional activity for the fifth week of the year.
Flu season usually takes off in late December and peaks around February. This season started early and was widespread in many states by December. Early last month, it hit what seemed like peak levels — but then continued to surge.
“It’s beginning to feel like a marathon,” said Dr. Anthony Marchetti, emergency department medical director at Upson (County) Regional Medical Center, a 115-bed hospital in rural Thomaston, the AP reported. A quarter of the hospital’s emergency department visits are by patients with flu, and the hospital has added nursing staff and placed some beds in hallways to accommodate the increase, Marchetti said.
“It just means we have to keep on keeping on. We’re getting used to it,” Marchetti said.
Doctors say they’re a bit bewildered as to why this season is so intense.
“It is surprising,” said Dr. James Steinberg, chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta. “It’s not a hugely new strain. So why is it so severe? I don’t think we know.”
At Doctors Hospital of Augusta, the tide of misery has yet to turn, said Dr. Thomas Zickgraf, medical director of the Emergency Department, the Augusta Chronicle reported.
“We’re still seeing a rise,” he said. “We have yet to plateau. We have been seeing record numbers of patients in our Emergency Department.”
At University Hospital, admissions from flu are already 40 percent above those seen in the severe 2014-15 season and there is no decrease in the number of patients showing up at the emergency room and at the hospital’s Prompt Cares, said Dr. Bo Sherwood, medical director for University Prompt Cares.
“It is not peaking now and it should have,” he said, which could mean several weeks of elevated activity.
Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News