published Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Flu hitting harder, earlier than usual

If you have a fever mixed with a cough, sore throat or body ache, you have official permission — even urging — from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department not to go to work.

Health department epidemiology manager Margaret Zylstra is spreading the word to limit the spread of the flu amid reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the virus is widespread, including in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.

Some people tough it out and go to work even though they are sick, but doing that puts at risk everyone who comes in contact with them, officials said.

A good guideline for children and adults is to be fever-free for 24 hours before returning to school or work, Zylstra said.

Georgia Department of Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said one person has died in Georgia this season because of the flu. She said 59 people in metro Atlanta have been hospitalized with the flu or flulike symptoms.

That's a high number of hospitalizations compared to years past, she said. The numbers for metro Atlanta reflect an increase throughout Georgia, she said.

Two people from Forsyth County, N.C., also have died as a result of the flu this season, according to news reports.

The most important thing to do to prevent the flu is get a vaccine shot, Zylstra said. It isn't a 100 percent guarantee, she said, but it is the best protection available. And people who get the flu after getting vaccinated have less-severe symptoms, she said.

Neither of the two people who died in North Carolina had been vaccinated.

"It's not too late," Nydam said. "You've still got time to get a flu shot and for that flu shot to be effective."

Flu season usually doesn't peak in Hamilton County until February or March, Zylstra said.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or call 423-757-6431.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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