News & Announcements

Flu Update: Phoebe and Public Health Warn of Worsening Flu Season

Tuesday, December 31, 2019 -

Albany, Ga. – The number of flu cases and the instances of influenza like illnesses are spiking in southwest Georgia. For the week ending Dec. 29, the number of flu tests processed by Phoebe’s main laboratory increased by 44% over the previous week, and the number of positive test results jumped 58%. “Clearly, we are entering the time of year when flu becomes much more prevalent, and people need to take precautions to protect themselves. The primary strain this season is particularly bad, and we are beginning to see a lot of really sick people,” said Steven Kitchen, MD, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer.

At a joint news conference Tuesday, officials from Phoebe and the Georgia Department of Public Health encouraged everyone to protect themselves from the flu. “The flu vaccine offers the best protection from the flu, and it’s not too late to get the flu shot. Flu vaccines are available at health departments and other locations throughout the region. Also, to minimize the spread of the illness, you should avoid contact with people who are sick and stay at home if you’re sick yourself,” said Charles Ruis, MD, Southwest Public Health District Health Director.

Flu season visitation restrictions remain in effect at all Phoebe hospitals. Phoebe leaders say during the peak of flu season people should avoid visiting the hospital unless they are giving direct care to a patient. “As flu prevalence increases in the community, visitors to the hospital are more likely to spread the flu to our patients and staff. For now, we ask that people simply do not visit the hospital, unless it is absolutely necessary,” Dr. Kitchen said.

Until further notice the following visitation guidelines are in effect at Phoebe hospitals:

  • Patient visitation should be limited to care and support of the patient. 
  • Visiting hours will be 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Children under the age of 18 should not visit the hospital.  Exceptions may be made for births and end-of-life situations.
  • Do not visit if you have any signs or symptoms of influenza.  Visit for more information.
  • If you have a fever, cough, body aches or a sore throat, please postpone your visit until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours.
  • Visitors should use hand gel when entering the hospital and may be offered the opportunity to wear a mask to minimize the spread of germs.
  • Visitors will be required to wear personal protective equipment such as gowns, gloves and masks if visiting a patient in isolation.

Right now the CDC lists Georgia as one of 39 states with widespread flu activity. In our region, the flu seems to be hitting children especially hard. “Last week, almost half the number of positive flu tests at Phoebe were in pediatric patients under the age of 18. Children often transmit the flu more easily. That’s why we urge parents to get their children vaccinated and why children should not visit the hospital during flu season,” said Evelyn Olenick, DNP, RN Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Chief Nursing Officer.

Not everyone who has the flu needs a flu test, and not all patients who contract the flu will test positive. “The flu test is not 100% accurate. It is a good tool to help providers evaluate and treat patients, but anyone with flu-like symptoms will be treated for the flu, regardless of whether they test positive,” Dr. Kitchen said.

Flu activity most often reaches its peak in February, but activity can last well into spring.

Phoebe urges all southwest Georgians to abide by the following advice for the remainder of flu season.

  • Avoid contact with people who have the flu.
  • Seek medical attention quickly if you develop symptoms. Antiviral medication may shorten the severity and duration of the flu if you contract the illness.
  • If you are sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or other necessities.
  • Cover your nose and your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.  Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you are unable to wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose to prevent germs from spreading.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces and objects.