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Georgia's flu death toll now at 51; season's peak is still ahead

Dr. Anne Schuchat

Georgia, as of Monday, now has 51 confirmed flu-related deaths, up from 37 on Jan. 31.

The state Department of Public Health also reported Friday, Feb. 2, that there were 120 hospitalizations due to influenza infection in the eight-county metro Atlanta region during the week of Jan. 21 through Jan. 27.

Nationally, the CDC reported an additional 16 flu deaths among children, bringing the U.S. total to 53. Public Health has confirmed one pediatric death in Georgia, identified by media reports as a Newnan teenager.

About half of the children who died apparently had been healthy and had no special vulnerability to this viral disease, Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, said Friday, Jan. 2.

"Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate flu activity is still high and widespread," Schuchat said at a weekly briefing. The report is from data as of one week ago, the 10th week of this flu season.

"So far this year, the cumulative rate of hospitalizations is the highest since we've been tracking in this way, which goes back to 2010,'' Schuchat said.

"This is a very difficult season," she added.

The CDC also recorded an increase in the percentage of patients who visited medical providers complaining of influenza-like illness across the nation.

"We have not hit our peak yet, unfortunately," CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said, according to CNN. "Really, the bottom line is, there is still likely many more weeks to go."

Schuchat said there are hopeful signs in the latest flu report.

"For the second week in a row, there are signs that activity in the West may be easing up," she said, according to CNN. "However, we are by no means out of the woods."

Nationally, only about 20 percent of those children who died had been vaccinated, said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC's influenza division, according to NPR. Even though this year's vaccination is not very effective, health officials say it still offers some protection. And they say it's not too late to get vaccinated.

Schuchat said parents should be especially concerned if their child has a high fever. In that case, parents should call their doctor to see whether a child needs to be seen or taken to an emergency room, NPR reported. "Worrisome signs are a very high persisting fever, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat or shallow rapid breathing, or significant tiredness or confusion."

The predominant flu strain this season, H3N2, typically leads to more illnesses and deaths.

Dr. Patrick O'Neal, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said this week that Georgians should call ahead to a doctor's office, pharmacy or Public Health to see if they have availability of vaccine. WABE reported that some pharmacies are running low on flu shots.

O'Neal said there are sporadic shortages of antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu for flu patients, but that "there's not a statewide shortage.''

Among other Public Health recommendations:

** Stay home from work or school if you're sick, so you don't spread the flu. Before returning to school or work, flu sufferers should be free of fever (without the use of a fever reducer) for at least 24 hours.

** If your doctor prescribes antivirals, take them.

** If you're not sick, stay away from people who are.

** Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently to help guard against the flu. If soap and water are not accessible, the next best thing is to use alcohol-based sanitizing gels.

** Cover the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing to help prevent the spread of the flu. Use a tissue, or cough or sneeze into the crook of the elbow or arm.

** Avoid touching your face, as flu germs can get into the body through mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes.


American Heart Month health tips

February has arrived. Cue the hearts, flowers and Valentine's Day festivities. While we have love on the brain, I would like to challenge you to change your perception of love by caring for your heart. February is American Heart Month.

Noncontrollable factors, like having a family history of heart disease, being of African-American descent, and growing older or postmenopausal, can contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The good news is that most chronic diseases, including CVD, are caused by modifiable behaviors. The three most common risk behaviors for CVD are lack of physical activity, poor nutrition and inadequate weight management.

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension encourages you to love yourself by making changes to decrease your risk for heart disease.

Change your diet. Most of us do not get the appropriate number of servings of fruit and vegetables every day. A small change, like ensuring that you have a serving of fruit or vegetables at every meal, can do wonders for your heart.

Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and low in calories, which aids in weight management. Try incorporating a variety of vegetables and fruits into your diet, like kale, asparagus, blueberries and cherries. I have found that drinking fruit and vegetable smoothies also increases fruit and vegetable intake.

Spice it up. Food preparation is just as important as the food itself. Reducing the amount of sodium in foods is essential to good heart health. We may be a society of foodies, and no one likes bland food, but there are ways to make foods taste great without adding sodium.

Spices and herbs add flavor without adding extra fat and calories. If you're aiming for an Italian-inspired meal, for instance, try using garlic powder, thyme, oregano and basil. Switching from garlic and onion salts to garlic and onion powders is a small step that could bring big returns.

Make the effort. Physical activity takes effort on our part. Again, small changes can make huge differences.

Walking is a cost-effective, easy way to get moving. Walk the entire grocery store, to the mailbox or to the corner.

I took my own advice and began walking. I am ashamed to say that, at first, it was rather difficult. I could not walk around the block. Yikes! I kept at it and now I can walk around the block twice. I had to build up to it. I started with a small goal of walking to the end of my block. I added a pedometer app to my phone that lets me know the number of steps I take daily. It serves as a reminder to get up and get moving. My family also joined in and my children and my husband join me on my evening walks.

Consider these Extension tips and make heart health a priority this Valentine's Day.

Keishon Thomas is the University of Georgia Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Bibb County.


Hit and run suspect extradited

Mitchell Taylor Horton, 27, charged with homicide by vehicle in last week's deadly hit and run on Marble Top Road, Chickamauga, was extradited to Walker County Jail Friday afternoon, Feb. 2, from the Hamilton County, Tenn. jail.

Horton was scheduled for a first appearance hearing in Walker County Magistrate Court this past weekend.

After review by the District Attorney's Office, Horton's case could then be assigned to the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Superior Court.