H1N1 flu resurfaces in the Southeast

State and federal disease detectives have converged in Georgia to investigate a late-season flurry of people hospitalized with H1N1 flu, health officials said Monday.

Georgia reflects a “worrisome trend” of persistent flu throughout the Southeast, says Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.

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Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina all report an increase in regional flu activity. Local clusters of cases have been reported in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

It’s too soon to tell whether the situation in the Southeast heralds a new wave of illness nationwide, Schuchat says. “I’m worried about a different possibility — more cases occurring day in, day out” in people who believe H1N1, or swine flu, is no longer a threat.

Georgia’s hospitalizations, and a sprinkling of deaths, began among adults in mid-February and have continued, says Patrick O’Neal, Georgia’s director of emergency preparedness and response.

Each week since then, hospitals have reported at least 40 hospitalizations and no more than four deaths statewide, O’Neal says. “That doesn’t sound like a lot,” he says. “But we had dropped down to no hospitalizations at the end of December. Seeing 40 per week was a significant increase for us.”

Most of those hospitalized have chronic illnesses, including diabetes, chronic lung disease and neurologic ailments. Pregnancy also raises a woman’s risk of severe flu illness.

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin urged people Monday to get vaccinated, especially those in high-risk groups. O’Neal said parents should take children younger than 9 for the full set of two shots.

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