ATLANTA — One of the most severe flu seasons in recent years is finally coming to an end, but not after claiming many lives across Georgia.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the season left at least 145 dead in Georgia.
Last season, there was a total of nine flu-related deaths in the state, the newspaper reported. Local health officials say it was the worst outbreak in decades.
The current flu season started early, in November. Then, by early January, the flu appeared to be striking hard at almost every state in the nation at around the same time.
"This was the worst season I have ever seen in Georgia, and I have been doing this for 20 years," said Dr. Cherie Drenzek, state epidemiologist with the Georgia Department of Public Health.
"From my perspective, this flu season is a really stark and somber reminder the flu is very unpredictable," she added.
Every year, on average, 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu, tens of thousands are hospitalized and thousands die from flu-related illness. It amounts to an estimated $10.4 billion a year in direct medical expenses and an additional $16.3 billion in lost earnings annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The predominant flu strain is H3N2, a form of influenza A. Doctors dread this strain because although it's been around for decades, this flu strain is associated with more severe illness, especially among children and the elderly. Flu vaccines also tend to be less effective against H3N2 than other strains.
This season's vaccine has been only about 36 percent effective against both A and B virus strains, according to the CDC. But experts say even if the vaccine provides just partial protection, the vaccine can still help lessen the severity of the flu and reduce the chance of experiencing severe complications.