Georgia’s flu activity is currently very high, state epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek said during the state Department of Public Health (DPH) board meeting Tuesday.  

A nurse provides a patient with an influenza vaccine. (Photo credit: CDC/Brandon Clifton via Capitol Beat)

Flu activity is spread around Georgia but is especially concentrated in metro Atlanta and around Macon and Columbus, Drenzek said.  

The state’s flu activity has been high since mid-August and increased to “very high” recently. Currently, in Georgia, 18% of flu tests are positive, while only 9% are positive nationally, Drenzek said. 

Outpatient visits for influenza-like symptoms have hit 10% this week. The last time the state saw similarly high rates so early in the flu season was in 2009-10.  

The current influenza activity is disproportionately affecting young children and the elderly, Drenzek added. DPH has confirmed 58 institutional flu outbreaks in the last week alone, about half of those in schools and half in long-term care homes.  

“Annual vaccination really remains the very best method for preventing seasonal flu and protecting against serious outcomes like hospitalization and death,” Drenzek added. “[It] is recommended for everyone over the age of six months.”

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), another infectious disease that affects primarily young children, has also had high levels of activity in September and October, said Drenzek, though numbers have declined recently. While 20% of tests were positive in mid-September, only 4.6% were positive this week.  

Drenzek noted the disease can be deadly and that there is no vaccine for it. RSV mainly affects young children, and infants are at most risk for hospitalization.  

DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey noted the department had received reports that hospitals were being hit hard by the high number of cases across the state and that EMS transport had been a problem in some cases. Toomey said she contacted the governor’s office and the Georgia Department of Community Health about those issues. 

In other public health developments, the DPH will also launch a new program to educate health-care providers and families about a common cause of hearing loss in young children, congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV). Twenty percent of children born with the disease have a permanent disability such as hearing loss or a developmental delay, Tina Turner, deputy director of child health services at DPH, told the board.  

Georgia requires screenings for all newborns for hearing problems so that they can receive early treatment and intervention. Beginning next month, the DPH will roll out an educational campaign about congenital cytomegalovirus to health-care providers and families, Turner said.  

Turner said the agency also is putting together a work group to look more closely at increasing CMV screening efforts in newborns in Georgia. Most other states have such a screening program in place, said board member Dr. Cynthia Mercer, an OB-GYN.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first in recent months where COVID was not discussed in detail.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Rebecca Grapevine | Capitol Beat

Rebecca Grapevine is a journalist based in Atlanta.