All in Info for the Public

The Georgia Department of Community Health is pleased to offer a six-part web-based lecture series on influenza and pandemic influenza to all Georgia primary care physicians. These lectures were designed for both a medical audience and a non-medical audience; members of the general public are welcome to view  them.

The most common adverse outcome for influenza in the pediatric age group is hospitalization. However, this risk is largely confined to the very young, especially children under 6 months of age, in whom the hospitalization rate is approximately 1 in 1,000. By two years of age the hospitalization rate for influenza is no higher than for older children or adults under age 50, the age groups with the lowest risk.

Flu kills an estimated 23,000 people every year in the United States, almost all during the three or four month "flu season" from December to March.  Ninety to 95% of those who die from flu are over age 65. The risk for death rises substantially for every decade in age beyond 65. The mortality rate from the H1N1 Swine flu that caused our recent pandemic was quite different. Very few people over age 65 were infected by Swine flu, and fewer still died from it.

A review article on 2009 H1N1 "Swine flu" is now  available in PDF format for interested readers. The author of the article is a physician at the Medical College of Georgia  in Augusta. This information was originally published in the March 2010 issue of Pediatric Emergency Medicine Reports, a national medical journal read monthly by physicians specializing in emergency medicine.

The outbreak is now largely behind us, although the virus does continue to circulate at low levels with seasonal influenza viruses in 2010-2011.  The scare is also over in the sense that we now know that this was may go down as the mildest flu pandemic on record. But that doesn't mean it was a false alarm, as some have claimed. The CDC has estimated that at least 60 million Americans were infected by 2009 H1N1 influenza, and that over 12,000 died, including 1,200 children. Consider also that those 12,000 people might well be alive today if not for this virus. In that sense, this was still a serious outbreak.

During the 2009 A(H1N1) pandemic, all major hospitals in Region G restricted visits by children to hospitalized patients. The reason for this was that children and young adults were the primay targets of the 2009 pandemic virus. People infected by influenza don't develop symptoms of their infection until about three days after the virus enters their body. 

Seek medical care immediately if you have significant underlying medical problems and you develop a flu-like illness (i.e., fever PLUS cough or sore throat) at a time when flu is actively circulating in your community. All people with flu symptoms should seek medical care if they develop breathing difficulty, inability to drink fluids, or if their fever extends more than five days.

Google has partnered with the CDC to produce Google Flu Trends. Until now, flu activity nationwide has been tracked primarily through CDC surveillance of visits to doctors for influenza-like illness (ILI). Those data are sent to the CDC for analysis on a weekly basis by "sentinel providers", physicians who volunatarily report on how many patients they have seen that week with ILI. Unfortunately, because of the time involved with data collection and analysis, there is generally a one to two week lag in the availability of the information to the public.