Updated at 10:44 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018 to include information about free flu vaccines being offered while supplies last.
In response to widespread illness, the Chattanooga- Hamilton County Health Department announced it will offer free influenza vaccinations — a $35 value — starting Monday in all of its clinics.
High absentee rates forced Hamilton County Schools to close on Friday, and both Marion County and Polk County Schools will be closed Monday.
The number of suspected flu cases reported at doctors' offices and hospital emergency rooms nationwide last week matched that seen in 2009, when a new swine flu pandemic swept the world, and flu-like illness activity across the country shows no sign of slowing.
Suspected flu cases at doctors' offices and hospital emergency rooms last week totaled 7.7 percent of the U.S. population.
The overall death rate isn't that of some seasons, but U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said on Friday that mortality reporting typically lags about two weeks behind hospitalizations.
So far this season, 63 pediatric flu-related deaths have been reported, with the region comprised of Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida reporting 18 children dead — the most of any region in the nation.
"I wish that there were better news this week, but almost everything we're looking at is bad news," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC. "We just have to keep being vigilant."
Although the vaccine's effectiveness against this year's predominant strain of the virus, Influenza A H3N2, has yet to be determined, officials are urging people who haven't gotten the shot to do so, because "any protection is better than none" and the incidence of other flu strains is rising.
"Even though it seems like it's pretty late in the year we do think it's worthwhile for people who didn't already get a vaccine to consider getting vaccinated," Schuchat said. "It's not uncommon for B strains to increase later in the season, [and] the idea that a person can get infected with A and B in a season definitely can happen."
The free flu vaccine offer at the health department is in effect while supplies last. Due to expected demand, those interested in getting the vaccine from the health department should call the clinic of their choice to check availability.
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at email@example.com or 423- 757-6673.