Opinion: In this deadly flu season, we owe it to each other to take precautions

Fever? Check.

Cold chills? Check.

Chest congestion and cough? Check.

And just like that the menace that has been the flu epidemic of 2018 had visited the Chapman household.

My 15-year-old daughter, Isley, tested positive for the flu last week.

We kept her in bed all last weekend. We went to the doctor Monday morning. A test, a swab of the nose, confirmed what we knew: The flu was in our midst.

So we cleaned. And cleaned. And cleaned some more.

Door handles, remotes, computer keys. Lysol, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer.

And we — my wife and I — prayed for the best.

This flu isn’t like the flu of late. It’s more deadly than usual, and when you’re a parent of three children the last thing you want visiting your house is the flu. Especially this one.

If you’ve kept abreast of the news recently, then you know that more than 50 Georgians have suffered flu-related deaths during this flu season.

The flu is always a deadly threat to vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those of us with respiratory or auto-immune disorders. This flu is making news — and grabbing the public’s attention — because we seem to be less able to fight it than in recent years. And otherwise healthy people have succumbed to it.

My heart breaks for those families.

Public health officials are warning us all to protect ourselves.

They do so against these sobering facts. First, this batch of flu vaccine is inoculating those of us who took the shot — like me — against roughly 30 percent of the flu strains that are infecting us. Health care advocates are clear about what this means. While taking the vaccine is advisable, they say, we must understand also that there is still considerable risk we all assume. So we can’t abandon the common-sense protection measures we should all employ, such as frequently washing your hands, sanitizing common areas and staying away from school or work if you’re infected or think you might be.

Secondly, some victims of flu-related deaths have been otherwise healthy. That worries public health officials when strains of the flu attack vital organs and might even escape detection. Healthcare officials say we should resist “toughing it out” and we should see a doctor when flu-like symptoms emerge.

The flu spares no one. And it has had a notable impact on our schools, workplaces and hospitals.

Our education team, lead by senior editor Chris Quinn, has been reporting on the uptick in absenteeism among students and staff at some of our largest metro Atlanta districts. The flu so decimated the teaching staff at Irwin County Elementary School in Ocilla that it forced administrators to cancel school for two days last week.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters who cover families and health care have also captured some of the flu’s impact on our health care system.

As first reported by our partners at Channel 2 Action News, Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital became the first hospital in the nation to add a mobile emergency room for flu patients. Flu cases had been overwhelming Grady’s emergency room. The mobile unit takes pressure off the ER and preserves capacity for non-flu emergencies.

We have also learned that the flu vaccine is in short supply. Yes, it’s advisable to get a flu shot if you haven’t gotten one yet. Flu season runs until May.

But some primary care physicians and retail outlets in metro Atlanta are running low on the vaccine and do not know if they’ll be able to meet a surge in demand.

As we endure this flu season together, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is committed to continuing to keeping you informed about the latest medical advice in fighting the flu and keeping you informed about the impact it is having on our institutions.

Sometimes the impact is personal and tragic.

That’s certainly true in the case of Kira Molina, a 10th-grader at Newnan High School, who should be looking forward to her 16th birthday.

Kira contracted the flu, sought treatment and somewhere along the line the threat to her health was not determined until it was too late. Kira, according to a report by the AJC’s Alexis Stevens, suffered liver failure triggered by an aggressive strain of flu.

As a father of a 15 year old, this one hit close to home. My wife couldn’t hold back the tears upon hearing the news.

Statistically, Kira’s death is an exception, an unlucky and incredibly cruel twist of fate that has left a family devastated. Still, it’s a reminder that we owe it to ourselves, and each other, to take every possible precaution.

Deputy Managing Editor Leroy Chapman Jr. is in charge of reporting teams that cover local, state and federal government, politics, public safety, health care and immigration. Email him at Leroy.Chapman@ajc.com

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