Scientists working to track flu-like illness amid pandemic

As we continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, flu season is now also upon us.

Researchers say so far, flu activity is low overall. In Georgia, it’s considered minimal. But doctors say they need your help keeping both the flu and COVID-19 at bay.

Channel 2 anchor Lori Wilson talked to Georgia Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek, who said that during a pandemic, the need to track influenza-like illness is especially important.

“We have a really robust surveillance system in place that allows us to track flu activity around the state,” Drenzek said.

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Influenza-like illness (ILI) is any virus that presents like the flu. The symptoms are fever, cough, sore throat and fatigue. ILI is voluntarily reported by a network of providers across Georgia, and while a virus may very well be influenza, it’s reported only as ILI because it is not confirmed to be the flu through lab testing.

Amber Schmidtke calls herself a science communicator. She tracks Georgia’s COVID-19 cases online. The former CDC employee’s passion is tracking numbers and making them understandable for online followers.

“I joke that my student population jumped from 120 to 20,000 very quickly,” Schmidtke said. “There’s no escaping the fact that influenza is going to play a major role in what happens with COVID. I’m definitely going to be tracking both of those things.”

Schmidtke and Drenzek both said that as we wait for a COVID vaccine, the most important thing people can do right now is control what they can. That means social distance, wear a mask and get a flu shot, because the vaccine is different every year.

“The good news is that the things that we’re doing right now to limit the spread of COVID-19 will also limit the spread of influenza,” Drenzek said.

The Department of Health said the best time to get your flu vaccine is right now, because it works best after it’s been in your system for about two weeks.