As marketing and public relations manager for Parkridge Health System in Chattanooga, Jamie Lawson knows all about the importance of getting a flu shot every year.
What’s more, he puts his money where his mouth is. Last October Mr. Lawson got the latest in a long line of annual flu shots he has taken over the years.
It wasn’t enough. This past Sunday, he developed a fever and other symptoms characteristic of seasonal flu. Five days later, although he said he felt much better, he was still hoarse and his voice was raspy when he talked.
He isn’t alone. Flu is widespread throughout much of Tennessee and the rest of the nation, and a sizable number of those who are ill did get flu shots, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and other health officials.
Nevertheless, health officials say the vaccine plays a major role in preventing illness and urge anyone who hasn’t already gotten a flu shot this year to do so as soon as possible.
“We continue to recommend the flu vaccine, even though we know most flu vaccines have low effectiveness against (this year’s most common) viruses,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers of Disease Control, said during a recent press conference. “Effectiveness against other flu viruses is better, and there is more than one flu virus circulating this season.”
In some areas of Tennessee and the nation, officials have said the flu season appears to have peaked and the incidence of flu has been slowing.
“In contrast to trends elsewhere in the nation, the unusually harsh flu season this year appears to be easing its grip on the Memphis area, health officials say,” the Commercial Appeal reported this week.
“The number of emergency room visits for flu-like illnesses in Shelby County has fallen by more than half,” the Memphis newspaper noted, “from a peak of close to 1,500 during the week of Dec. 17-23 to a little over 600 last week . . . the number of laboratory-confirmed flu cases reported to the (health) department also peaked during the week of Dec. 17-23 at 356. By the last week in January, the most recent period for which figures are available, the number of positive tests had fallen to 90.”
Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, however, has seen no such trend, according to figures provided by public relations specialist Blaine Kelley.
Since Oct. 1, statistics show, Erlanger has reported a whopping 994 incidences of flu-like illnesses to the Hamilton County Health Department.
The largest number of cases during a single week, 226, occurred the week of Jan. 29 to Feb. 4.
That’s two more than the 224 cases Erlanger reported the week of Jan. 8 to 14.
Back at Parkridge, Mr. Lawson said a total of 759 confirmed flu patients were seen by health system personnel between Oct. 1, 2017 and Feb. 4.
The number of cases at Parkridge peaked at 158 during the week of Jan. 7, he said, “followed in successive weeks by 124, 127 and 125 cases respectively.”
There’s no way to tell exactly how many residents of the Volunteer State have come down with seasonal flu during the 2017-18 season, according to Shelley Walker of the Tennessee Department of Health.
Seasonal influenza is not a reportable disease except among children and pregnant women, she said, noting that the disease has killed six children and one pregnant woman in Tennessee this flu season.
Other surveillance measures indicate “flu is still widespread across the state,” she said. “We urge anyone who has not yet had a flu vaccination to get one as soon as possible . . . Our county health departments still have flu vaccine on hand, and we will continue to provide flu vaccines at no cost to patients as long as we have vaccine.”
Some county health departments have gone beyond offering flu vaccine to patients during normal office hours. In Bradley County – where roughly 30 percent of Cleveland City Schools’ total 5,626 students were out sick on one recent memorable day – the local health department teamed up with Tennessee Department of Health to hold a special clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today in the Bradley Central High School cafeteria.
Approximately 200 free shots would be available at that clinic, officials said, and would be given to both children and adults on a first come, first served basis.
Officials have not decided whether to hold special flu shot clinics in any county health departments other than Bradley in the state health department’s Southeast Region, according to Amanda Goodhard, the public information officer for the region.
“As of right now we do not have any other special flu shot clinics planned in the Southeast Region,” Ms. Goodhard said. “This is something that we may consider having in other parts of the region, depending on the turnout for this clinic and the amount of vaccine we have available . . . (However) anyone who has not yet received their flu shot can go to any of our county health departments and receive the shot for free as long as we have vaccine on hand.”