published Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Flu activity down, but not out in Chattanooga area, regional health officials say


by Emily Bregel
  • photo
    Staff photo by John Rawlston Vials of flu vaccine are photographed at the CVS Minute Clinic in Riverview.

Following an early surge of flu activity, holiday vacations and a week of snow- and ice-induced isolation have quelled flu outbreaks locally, some doctors said.

"We had a pretty big run of flu in late November and December," said Dr. Chip Harris with Erlanger South Family Medicine Practice in Ringgold, Ga.

But the person-to-person spread seems to have slowed since Christmas, and a snowstorm kept children out of school and some adults home from work, he said.

"We've not seen any since I've been back," he said.

But local health officials say flu activity may not peak until February.

"We're not done with the flu season," said Anil Mangla, director for infectious disease and immunization for the Georgia Department of Community Health.

Georgia was the first state to get hit with significant levels of flu activity this year, local health officials say. But now the Peach State's flu level has been downgraded from widespread to regional, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's report for the week ending Jan. 8.

In Georgia six people have died of influenza this season, but none were in the 10-county Northwest Georgia Public Health District, spokesman Logan Boss said.

Across Tennessee, flu is widespread but low-level, said Kelly Moore, medical director of the immunization program at the Tennessee Department of Health.

"We're really fortunate this year that the vaccine appears to be a match for all strains circulating," she said.

VACCINES

This year's vaccine includes one influenza B strain and two strains of influenza A, including the H1N1 strain that took the country off guard in mid-2009 and 2010.

The CDC estimates that more than 12,000 people died in the H1N1 outbreak from April 2009 to April 2010, and nearly 90 percent of the deaths were among people younger than 65.

CDC FLU SURVEILLANCE

The ranking indicates geographic spread of flu, but not the severity of flu activity.

* No activity

* Sporadic

* Local

* Regional

* Widespread

Source: CDC

Harris, who has treated mostly B strain cases so far this year, expects a resurgence of another strain in the coming months.

"Most years it's influenza A we get hit with, and I'm kind of waiting for the influenza A wave to come in February and March," he said. "But there's no way to predict it."

Local doctors haven't seen much H1N1 so far this year, but say that more people seem to be getting flu shots.

Moore said people who come down with one strain of flu can still catch one of the other two strains if they aren't vaccinated.

"There's no reason for people to remain unvaccinated," she said. "We don't want people to let down their guard."

Contact staff writer Emily Bregel at ebregel@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6467.

GET A SHOT

Flu shots and nasal sprays are available at many locations:

* Bi-Lo: All Tennessee locations. Call ahead to schedule. Free to Medicare and TennCare enrollees, $27 for others. (Pneumonia vaccine also available.)

* Walgreens: Walk-in basis.

* Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, walk-in basis.

* Walker County Health Department. 706-638-5577.

* Dade County Health Department: $20, walk-in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 8-11 a.m. and 1-4 p.m., Fridays 8 a.m. to noon. 706-657-4213.

* Catoosa County Health Department: Vaccine available only for eligible, uninsured children. 706-935-2366.

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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