ATLANTA — Flu activity is inching up in Georgia and already at a "high" level after a "moderate" 2018-19 season, according to health authorities.
But the flu season is still in its early days, making it too early to declare 2019-20 a bad year, even though the numbers were higher last month than in each of the previous two Novembers.
The Georgia Department of Public Health said Monday that 5.31% of patient visits to doctors were for the flu during the week ending Nov. 23, up from 4.59% the week before, according to the latest surveillance report from the state health department.
Flu activity has been steadily rising over the past several weeks. There have been 88 flu-related hospitalizations in metro Atlanta, but no flu-related deaths reported in the state.
Puerto Rico and six other states — including Alabama, South Carolina and Louisiana — are also at high flu activity levels, according to the latest surveillance report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A rough flu season in Australia had medical experts on high alert for potentially the same in the U.S. Australia, which saw an earlier-than-usual peak of flu cases, was hit hard with a particularly virulent flu strain, H3N2, which generally causes more severe illness, especially in seniors.
Public health experts stress that the Australian flu season doesn't always predict the U.S. one. Even within the U.S., there can be regional differences. Flu activity also typically peaks between December and February.
Still, levels are slightly higher than in late November of last year, when 4.5% of patient visits to doctors were for the flu. The 2018-2019 season had an overall severity rating of "moderate," according to the CDC.
Flu activity levels are also higher than they were around this time of year during the brutal 2017-2018 flu season — which turned out to be one of the worst on record. It wasn't until December of 2017 when flu activity ramped up.
By early January 2018, over 100 people in metro Atlanta were being hospitalized for flu-related illnesses every week. By the end of the 2017-2018 season, 145 people in Georgia died from flu-related causes, and more than 3,000 people in metro Atlanta were hospitalized for flu-related illnesses.
The flu season usually starts to recede in March but can extend into May — as it did last flu season.
It takes about two weeks after a flu shot for antibodies to develop in the body, according to the CDC. Experts say it's not too late to get a flu shot.
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