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ATLANTA -- This is a mean strain of flu, this season.

Even though there are fewer cases of flu, there are more flu-related deaths.

Deaths are up in Georgia.

And hundreds who survive this flu have been getting so sick they've had to be hospitalized.

This year's H1N1 strain of flu ismean:

As of January 10, there were 31 flu-related deaths in Georgia -- up from 19 the week before.

31 deaths, so far -- which is already three times higher than the ten deaths in all of last flu season in Georgia.

And this year, most of the people killed were well under the age of 65.

Some were perfectly healthy, until they got this flu.

Some had underlying respiratory problems.

"The most susceptible folks have been in the 19 to 49 year age group," said J. Patrick O'Neal, M.D., the Director of Health Protection with the Georgia Department of Public Health. "We're particularly concerned about asthmatics, because those individuals, if they contract flu, tend to have a very severe case, and are very vulnerable to complications."

Dr. O'Neal said it is now likely that this flu season is going to last into March -- so he said if you're a candidate for a flu shot or mist, it's not too late to get immunized.

11Alive News interviewed Dr. O'Neal late Friday afternoon at the DPH offices in downtown Atlanta:

This has been an interesting flu season in that it was a bit slow to start.... For the first two weeks in January, the numbers have actually started to decline in terms of the actual numbers of cases. But the reported deaths have increased, and the reported hospitalizations have also increased.

The thing that has been a bit strange about this flu season is that this is an H1N1 virus, the same virus that appeared in 2009 as a pandemic virus, and yet even though it is the same virus, there must have been some, slight change in it because it's manifesting with more severe disease --not necessarily tremendously higher numbers of cases, at least in our state, but significant severity of disease when it does occur.

We are recommending that any individuals who have not yet received the vaccine, go ahead and get immunized if they're candidates for immunization. It's not too late because even though the numbers of cases are going down, the flu season is still going to likely be with us, at least, well into March.

It's widespread throughout the state of Georgia. Obviously in the more populous areas you have larger numbers of cases, but it's widespread throughout Georgia.

The most susceptible folks have been in the 19 to 49 year age group. In the beginning we were not seeing any deaths in the over-65 age group, but we now have four deaths in that age group. And we've had one pediatric death. But the largest number of deaths and the largest number of cases have occurred in the 19 to 49 year olds.

Individuals that have certain vulnerabilities with respiratory disease are the individuals that should think very, very carefully about getting their immunizations if they have not done so. We're particularly concerned about asthmatics, because those individuals, if they contract flu, tend to have a very severe case, and are very vulnerable to complications. So we're certainly urging asthmatics and individuals with chronic, obstructive lung disease and various types of respiratory diseases to be sure that they get their immunizations.

It is of concern that Georgia is now up to a total of 31 deaths. And in the metro Atlanta area, which is the only part of the state where we monitor hospitalizations, we're now up to 609 (609 people hospitalized, compared with 475 the week before), which is a large number of hospitalizations for influenza.

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