WellStar is reporting 37 times as many flu cases at its five hospitals in December 2012 than during the same month a year earlier.
Three of WellStar’s hospitals are in Cobb County: Kennestone in Marietta, Windy Hill in Smyrna and Cobb Hospital near Austell. Spokeswoman Sharon Woods said the five hospitals saw 1,025 influenza cases last month and 28 in December 2011.
While the December numbers were also a large increase over November 2012, those numbers also show a large year-to-year increase. In November, 170 flu cases were reported, compared to 21 a year earlier.
While the health care system doesn’t break down flu cases to its individual hospitals, numbers indicate increases at Kennestone. The hospital, which has the busiest emergency department in Georgia, saw 826 more overall patients in December 2012 than it did in December 2011, with 316 more being admitted to the hospital.
On average, Kennestone has seen 340 to 350 patients per day. But since the start of December 2012, the average has increased to 400 patients per day, Woods said.
“The increased volume is due in part to the influenza outbreak,” she said.
Woods said the positive aspect is that WellStar has been able to get half of those patients out of the hospital within three hours of their arrival.
“When you consider that WellStar is a tertiary referral center with a Level II trauma center, a certified stroke center, accredited chest pain center and the busiest emergency department in the state, this is a tremendous accomplishment,” she said.
Georgia Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said it is difficult to tell why flu season, which usually peaks from late January into March, has started so early this year.
“Flu is somewhat unpredictable,” she said.
The strain of flu that is going around this year, H3N2, is very easily spread, Nydam said. She advises people to take precautions such as using their sleeves to cover up when they cough or sneeze, instead of their hands. Using hands leads to the spread of respiratory droplets.
Darlene Foote with Cobb & Douglas Public Health said it isn’t too late for residents to get flu shots.
“We’re just energizing folks to get their vaccinations,” she said. “We have plenty of it on hand at all our centers.
In Cobb, flu shots are available at 1650 County Services Parkway in Marietta, 4489 Acworth Industrial Drive in Acworth and at 4938 Lower Roswell Road in east Cobb.