ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The numbers of people suffering with influenza and other respiratory illnesses are swelling.
Here in Southwest Georgia, the region's safety net hospital is reporting some of the highest patient census numbers in recent years.
There has been a large up-swing in upper and lower respiratory tract illnesses, and that includes flu and pneumonia. The medical staff at Phoebe Putney's Main campus, and Phoebe North are dealing with a roughly 30% increase in sick patients.
"Our census, just in the last few days, has really risen to an unprecedented high," said Steven Kitchen, the Chief Medical Officer at Phoebe.
Inside Phoebe's Emergency Center at lunchtime Wednesday, we counted nine patients in the waiting room wearing masks.
There are hundreds more being treated.
"Our combined census between the main campus and the north campus (Wednesday) morning was 414. Typically, we have a combined census of between 300 and 320. It's really swelled to an unprecedented high in just the last few days," said Dr. Kitchen.
Because of this unprecedented flu and viral season, hospitals across the state, including here at Phoebe, have adjusted visitor rules and are recommending children under age 18 not visit the hospital and sick people be symptom-free for 24 hours before visiting a patient.
The signs are at every welcome desk, along with hand sanitizer and those protective masks.
With the flu season at just a half-way point, these items will likely be visible for several more months.
"It is certainly the worst we have seen in southwest Georgia in several years. This has been a really, really bad flu season," said Dr. Kitchen.
A lot of people have questions about the flu shot, and whether it makes sense to get one this late in the flu season.
Dr. Kitchen said there is still a benefit to getting a flu shot now.
He said that even though the vaccine hasn't been as effective, with a flu shot your symptoms will not be as severe, and the duration shorter.