An outbreak of influenza is apparently peaking in the Rome area which has prompted Redmond Regional Medical Center, Floyd Medical Center and Polk Medical Center to restrict visitors to the hospitals.
All three hospitals are restricting visitors to immediate family members and no one under the age of 13.
The flu can cause serious complications, even be fatal, particularly for the very young, the elderly and those with certain existing medical conditions.
Northwest Georgia Public Health spokesman Logan Boss said the predominant strain that is going around is the H3N2. "It's an A strain that can be particularly tough for the very young and the elderly," Boss said.
Boss said this strain typically results in more hospitalization and deaths than are seen in the "normal" flu season. Boss said of the five confirmed flu deaths in Georgia, one was an elderly Bartow County resident with underlying medical conditions.
Nancy Nydam, a spokesman for the Department of Public Health in Atlanta said more than 300 people have been hospitalized across the state.
Boss said he would not be surprised at all if the number of flu-related deaths does not go up.
"Normally, the peak of our flu season is in February," Boss said.
Redmond Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Andrea Pitts said since Jan. 1 Redmond has tested nearly 200 patients for influenza.
"Of those patients tested, approximately 20 percent have tested positive for the flu. This is an increase from December when of 274 patients tested, 9.5 percent showed positive results for the flu."
“If you think you have the flu, the best action to take is to visit your primary care doctor or an urgent care office as soon as possible,” said Dr. Robert Holcombe Jr., medical director, Floyd Urgent Care.
Visitorswho are allowed to see loved ones in the local hospitals are encouraged to wash their hands frequently while in the hospital and wear protective face masksin the event they are asked to do so.
“It is not too late to get a flu shot,” says J. Patrick O’Neal, M.D., DPH commissioner. “Every individual over the age of six months should get a flu vaccine — not just for their own protection, but to protect others around them who may be more vulnerable to the flu and its complications.”
"Influenza is probably the most unpredictable infectious disease that we deal with in public health," Boss said. "It makes it incredibly difficult to develop vaccines, it's a guessing game, to develop a vaccine that will be effective against a flu virus six months out." Boss admitted the vaccine this year has been less effective than some in years gone by but said it's still the best protection available.