The Grapevine

The Flu Virus Is Widespread In Georgia, Shuts Down Entire Polk County School System

Flu vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declares Georgia in the red for flu season; 10 schools close ahead of their scheduled winter break due to several students and teachers getting sick. Luckily, it's not too late for a flu shot. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Flu season peaks in the United States between December and February — and Georgia’s Polk County school system is proof of it. All 10 schools have already closed ahead of their scheduled winter break after 1,300 students (17 percent of the student body) and 78 teachers (16 percent) stayed home sick with the flu.

"We started off fairly slow in Georgia, but in the last two to three weeks we've seen a dramatic increase, in particularly in the last seven to 10 days the numbers of cases have gone up tremendously,” Dr. J. Patrick O’Neal, the director of health protection, told WSB Atlanta. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the virus is at its highest level and spreading like wildfire. And Dr. William Hunter, the county’s superintendent, said the early closure is to protect others from contracting the virus.

The silver lining is it isn’t for those living in Georgia, or anywhere else for that matter, to get their flu shot.

"[The shot can] probably make it shorter in duration, and less severe.  So we still recommend, even now, if people have not been immunized, to get their immunizations,” O’Neal said.

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine is the single best way for everyone aged 6 months and older to protect against serious disease; 6 months to 8-year-olds need double the dose for full protection. In addition to the vaccine, the CDC recommends avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when you are sick, as well as covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Also, frequent hand washing is helpful to protect and prevent against the spread of germs.

The flu vaccine, however, is slightly controversial. For starters, more than 40 percent of adults living in the U.S. avoid it because they believe it will give them the actual flu; a Reuters report proved this a myth. Dr. Gregory A. Poland, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said “it’s absolutely biologically impossible to get the flu from the vaccine.”

There’s also concern for the strain of virus the vaccine protects against. Currently, it only protects against the main flu viruses that “research suggests will cause the most illness during the upcoming flu season.” Since the viruses are constantly changing, it isn’t unusual for a new strain to infect people. Regardless, the CDC cites multiple studies conducted over different seasons, and across different vaccines and virus subtypes, that show the vaccine is the best protecting against influenza during flu season.

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