ATLANTA - Flu is more widespread across the nation, but the number of hard-hit states has declined, health officials said Friday.
Flu season started early this winter, and includes a strain that tends to make people sicker.
Health officials have forecast a potentially bad flu season, following last year's unusually mild one. So far there have been two flu-related deaths in Georgia and 471 hospitalizations, officials said.
The latest numbers, however, hint that the flu season may already have peaked in our region.
“We are seeing some decrease in flu activity, but we are still at epidemic level and the flu is unpredictable,” Patrick O’Neal, director of the Division of Health Protection said in a statement Friday.
Some metro Atlanta pharmacies reported a shortage of flu vaccine. The Woodstock Pharmacy in Woodstock called in extra staff to handle the rush, pharmacist Jonathan Marquess said.
Marquess told Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston his pharmacy has already given 5,000 flu shots at six different locations.
“We’re getting close to being out. We have about 80 shots left,” Marquess said.
Flu patients have filled up emergency rooms across metro Atlanta. Channel 2’s Ross Cavitt found four ambulances in line and more pulling in. The longer ambulances have to wait for beds for patients, known as ER saturation, the longer it takes to respond to 911 calls, officials said.
“We will deploy additional personnel, additional equipment in the case of ER saturation so we can relieve our crew members with their patients, take over patient care until a bed placement is found so we can get our units back in service quicker,” Dennis Westover with Metro Atlanta Ambulance said.
“Unfortunately it happens more than we would like and what we try to do is make room for everybody. We have a triage program in place that sees who is the sickest (and) who needs to be seen the soonest,” Dr. Michael Lubitz told Cavitt.
The CDC said the hardest hit states fell to 24 from 29, with large numbers of people getting treated for flu-like illness. Dropped off that list were several states in the South, the first region hit this flu season.
Recent flu reports have included the holidays, when some doctor's offices were closed, so it will probably take a couple more weeks to know if the flu has peaked in some places or grown stronger in others, CDC officials said Friday.
"Only time will tell how moderate or severe this flu season will be," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a teleconference with reporters.
Nationally, 20 children have died from the flu. There is no running tally of adult deaths, but the CDC estimates that the flu kills about 24,000 people in an average year.
Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months or older, and health officials say it is not too late to get vaccinated.
Nearly 130 million doses of flu vaccine were distributed this year, and at least 112 million have been used. Vaccine is still available, but supplies may have run low in some locations, health officials say.