Dr. Winkler Weinberg said it started around Thanksgiving this year and takes about eight weeks to travel through a community.
Despite talk of greater numbers of flu patients this year, Weinberg, Keiser Permanente’s chief of infectious diseases — whose office is in Vinings — said he would be surprised if this year’s numbers were any higher than other year.
“It’s very consistent from year to year,” he said. “Even in 2009 with the outbreak of H1N1 [the swine flu], there was the same number of patients.”
Nonetheless, vaccine manufacturers have increased their estimated production totals for the season, up from 135 million doses to now 145 million doses, according to the DeKalb County-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The center reported most of the country has been experiencing “high levels of influenza-like illnesses,” and it reported 32 flu-related deaths in metro Atlanta alone within the first three weeks of January.
But Georgia’s most recent influenza-like illnesses fell in the moderate level, as of last week, according to the center.
For flu prevention, Weinberg highly recommends all members of the family receive the flu vaccine once every six months, even though it is not 100 percent effective, Weinberg said. Some years its effectiveness is as low as 50 percent, he said, but on an average year it is about 85 percent effective.
“You can never totally rely on the vaccine,” Weinberg said.
The most important secondary prevention technique is “social distancing,” he said. “Which means stay 3 feet or more away from anyone who is coughing and not practicing respiratory hygiene.”
“It’s very hard to teach children respiratory hygiene [at school],” Weinberg said. “Just do the best you can.”
He said it is often a misconception the flu is transmitted on inanimate objects.
“That is Rhinovirus,” Weinberg said. “The influenza virus goes through the air by a mechanism called ‘large droplet spread,’ or basically coughing.
”Everyone should encourage others to practice respiratory hygiene by simply telling them to cover their mouths during all coughs and sneezes," he said.
Fulton County Health Services offers residents six locations to receive the flu vaccine from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Residents can get the flu shot for $25 and people ages 2 to 49 can also get the nasal mist for $25.
Information: (404) 612-1211 or visit www.fultoncountygahealth.org or www.flu.gov.
Flu vaccines offered in Fulton County:
Adamsville Regional Health Center, 3700 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Atlanta, (404) 613-4215.
College Park Regional Health Center, 1920 John E. Wesley Ave., College Park, (404) 765-4155.
Lakewood Health Center, 1853 Jonesboro Road, Atlanta, (404) 624-0626.
Center for Health and Rehabilitation, 265 Boulevard Ave., Atlanta (404) 612-5835.
North Fulton Regional Health Center, 3155 Royal Drive, Alpharetta, (404) 332-1834