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Valentine's Day

On February 14, Americans celebrate love and friendship by exchanging cards, flowers, and candy. Although the origins of Valentine's Day are murky, ancient Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia, a spring festival, on the fifteenth of February. Like so many holidays, a Christian gloss was added to the pagan fete when the holiday moved to the fourteenth of February— the saint day associated with several early Christian martyrs named Valentine.

The romance we associate with Valentine's Day may spring from the medieval belief that birds select their mates on February 14. During the Middle Ages, lovers recited verse or prose to one another in honor of the day. The Nuremberg Chronicle (published in 1493) is believed to contain the first in-print mention of Saint Valentine, though his role as patron saint of lovers was not mentioned

Handmade valentines, probably the first greeting cards, appeared in the sixteenth century. Mass production of cards began as early as 1800. Initially hand-tinted by factory workers, by the early twentieth century even fancy lace and ribbon-strewn cards were created by machine.

Flu refuses to wane, has now killed 66 in Georgia

Dr. Anne Schuchat

Georgia's flu-related death toll this season now stands at 66, with two confirmed child deaths, according to the state's Department of Public Health.

The agency total means that 15 more deaths in the state were confirmed during the week of Jan. 28 through Feb. 3, the latest for which figures are available.

Nationally, 10 more flu-related deaths were reported in children as of that week, bringing the total number of kids who have died of flu-related causes to 63 for the season, which began in October.

The current flu season is "still on the rise," the acting director of the CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat, said Friday. Just a few weeks ago, many experts expected it to be past its peak by now.

"We may be on track to break some recent records," Schuchat said.

The Associated Press reported that this season is now as bad as the swine flu epidemic nine years ago.

The government report shows 1 of every 13 visits to the doctor last week was for fever, cough and other symptoms of the flu. That ties the highest level seen in the nation during the swine flu outbreak in 2009, AP reported.

That year, Georgia recorded 58 deaths.

Schuchat said hospitalizations in the 55-to-64 age group and higher levels of influenza-like illness are where the records will come.

"We don't have signs of hospitalizations leveling off yet," she said.

The predominant flu strain this season, H3N2, typically leads to more illnesses and deaths. There are spot shortages of flu-fighting medications, both in Georgia and nationally.

Though cases near the Canadian border and along the West Coast show some signs of easing, there are "likely many more weeks to go," CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said.

The CDC again said influenza activity was widespread in 48 states and Puerto Rico for the week. Oregon and Hawaii, the exceptions, both recorded regional activity for the fifth week of the year.

Flu season usually takes off in late December and peaks around February. This season started early and was widespread in many states by December. Early last month, it hit what seemed like peak levels — but then continued to surge.

"It's beginning to feel like a marathon," said Dr. Anthony Marchetti, emergency department medical director at Upson (County) Regional Medical Center, a 115-bed hospital in rural Thomaston, the AP reported. A quarter of the hospital's emergency department visits are by patients with flu, and the hospital has added nursing staff and placed some beds in hallways to accommodate the increase, Marchetti said.

"It just means we have to keep on keeping on. We're getting used to it," Marchetti said.

Doctors say they're a bit bewildered as to why this season is so intense.

"It is surprising," said Dr. James Steinberg, chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta. "It's not a hugely new strain. So why is it so severe? I don't think we know."

At Doctors Hospital of Augusta, the tide of misery has yet to turn, said Dr. Thomas Zickgraf, medical director of the Emergency Department, the Augusta Chronicle reported.

"We're still seeing a rise," he said. "We have yet to plateau. We have been seeing record numbers of patients in our Emergency Department."

At University Hospital, admissions from flu are already 40 percent above those seen in the severe 2014-15 season and there is no decrease in the number of patients showing up at the emergency room and at the hospital's Prompt Cares, said Dr. Bo Sherwood, medical director for University Prompt Cares.

"It is not peaking now and it should have," he said, which could mean several weeks of elevated activity.

Check it out: Big change for digital patrons

Tuesday, Feb. 6, libraries across Georgia switched to a new vendor, RBDigital, for access to audio books, ebooks and — for the first time — e-magazines.

The switch was made due to several factors, Cherokee Regional Library System Branch Services Librarian Chelsea Kovalevskiy said. The result is a better and broader range of services is now available and at a better price.

"The contract had steadily increased from year to year, so members of Georgia Download Destination looked for a better value," she said.

Kovalevskiy said Georgia is unique in that it has a statewide public library system and its member libraries will get more bang for their buck.

Nearly every library in Georgia, including those in Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties are GADD members,

Cherokee Regional Library System's branches in Trenton, Chickamauga, Rossville and LaFayette had previously budgeted nearly $8,000 each year to have Overdrive offer digital content. The new contract with RBDigital is for $3,600 annually, Library Director Lecia Eubanks said.

The new vendor has about 7,000 audio books available for instant download. Patrons can download to their own device (computer, table or smartphone) and read at will, no longer will the digital version of a work be treated as though it were a hardback book that was unavailable to others until finished. Now, simultaneous use is possible for books and also for some magazines.

Members of the statewide library system can now browse through between

10,000 and 15,000 issues of magazines — there are subscriptions to more than 112 periodicals — which is something totally new.

While the change can benefit anyone with a library card, Kovalevskiy said it is important that patrons realize switching vendors requires some changes that can only be executed by the individual user.

"Our digital users often aren't regular visitors to the branches," she said. "They renew their accounts every two years to continue having access to our material."

To register the first time, it is necessary to use a computer or smart tablet/phone web browser as registration cannot be done directly on the RBDigital app.

To make the change, patrons must visit the library's webpage, click a "Digital Library" banner on the upper right hand corner and follow the link to the RBDigital platform, which offers a similar experience to the existing platform. Once registered online, users will download the app through the app store.

Users who read or listen on desktop computers, laptops, mobile devices, and tablets will continue to have the ability to download and enjoy these materials. Users who own dedicated Kindle e-readers, such as the Paperwhite, will need to contact RBDigital's helpline for assistance, due to Amazon's proprietary e-book format.

Kovalevskiy pointed out another benefit offered by RBDigital is the vendor has a call center/helpline that provides support Monday through Friday (7:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.) by calling 1-877-772-8346 or e-mailing

Because taxpayers help support the statewide system, library cards are free for Georgians. Anyone living out-of-state can obtain a Georgia Library PINES (Public Information Network for Electronic Services) card for $25 a year.

To create an online account, cardholders will need to obtain a PIN (personal identification number) from the library. For more information on how to get a PIN, card holders should phone or visit a local library's front desk.