Valdosta, Ga. – According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, flu activity is increasing. Lowndes and surrounding counties are seeing an increase in the number of cases as well. This is a reminder that flu season is not over and there is still time to get vaccinated. Over 36,000 people die in the US from flu-related complications each year and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control.Influenza, more commonly referred to as “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory disease that can cause cough, fever (usually high), headaches, muscle aches, chills, sore throat, fatigue and a runny nose. The disease is spread by droplets from coughing or sneezing. It can cause mild to severe illness. The young, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with chronic health problems are at higher risk from serious flu-related complications. It is a common myth in our society that flu vaccines cause the flu. Today’s vaccines are made from viruses have been killed and they cannot cause influenza infection. Vaccines are currently available at South Georgia Medical Center’s (SGMC) Urgent Care clinic, as well as all public health departments in Lowndes County (Downtown Valdosta, Lake Park and Hahira), area pharmacies and some physicians’ offices.According to SGMC’s Chief of Infectious Diseases Willy Saurina, MD, MSc, FACP, “Some vaccinated patients have contracted and tested positive for influenza virus. This is most likely due to the influenza virus mutating during the flu season. Persons who received a flu vaccine have some protection even when the virus mutates and the person is less sick than if he or she had not received a vaccine. If you believe that you have the flu, you should seek medical attention. Antivirals can be prescribed by your physician to help shorten your illness time.” Dr. Saurina states that it is not too late to receive a flu vaccine and he urges those who are eligible to receive the vaccine to get one as soon as possible. For individuals who dislike shots, antiviral nasal sprays are available from area physicians.Flu germs are often widespread in crowded gathering places, such as churches, stores and malls during colder weather. In addition to getting an annual flu shot, frequent hand washing and/or the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to minimize the spread of germs is recommended. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/flu.