Flu cases on the rise in Alabama

This sign on the door of the DeKalb County Health Department urges visitors to stay away if they have flu symptoms, which include dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and chills.

Significant influenza activity has been detected in Alabama, with one-in-11 individuals reportedly visiting their doctor for flu-like symptoms, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Those symptoms include dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and chills.

Three new influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) this week, bringing the total to 22 nationally since September, said Dr. Burnestine Taylor, MD, the medical officer for disease prevention for the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). She said the reporting is imperfect because people may have the flu, yet fail to visit a doctor. There is no cure for the flu, but local doctors can prescribe products to shorten the course of it and minimize the symptoms.

Dr. Peter Strogov, MD, of Fort Payne Pediatrics said his office normally serves between 130-150 patients per day, but they averaged about 180 patients per day in the three weeks prior to the holiday break from school.

“There was definitely an uptick,” Dr. Strogov said, “and that has just now died down. We expect it to rise again now that kids have returned to school and are spreading the virus to one another.”

ADPH recommends keeping children out of school if they exhibit influenza symptoms and staying at home when you have a fever of 100 degrees F or higher. Return to normal social and work activities after you've been fever-free without taking fever reducing medicine for 24 hours.

Influenza-like Illnesses reported to APDH increased from 4.58% to 6.21% between Dec. 21-28. The threshold for significance in Alabama is 3.19%.

Activity is being caused mostly by influenza B/Victoria viruses, which is unusual for this time of year. A/H1N1viruses are the next most common and are increasing in proportion relative to

other influenza viruses in some regions.

“The influenza B virus is typically seen at the end of the flu season, but we are seeing it already. We don’t yet know the significance of that,” Dr. Taylor said.

Dr. Strogov explained that the influenza B virus typically shows up around February or March and involves more nausea and vomiting, whereas influenza A usually follows an earlier pattern and is more respiratory in nature.

Nationally, the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza increased to 5.7%, but remains below the epidemic threshold of 6.5%. The overall hospitalization rate is similar to what has been seen at this time during other recent seasons.

State public health officials recommend:

  • Get vaccinated with the “quadrivalent” vaccine, which protects against four (quad) strains, and is the only vaccine available that provides protection against Influenza B (Yamagata). There are four FDA-approved influenza antiviral medications recommended for use in the U.S. this season, usually given from October through March each year. Each year the flu vaccine is updated to fight current flu strains. The flu shot is made with an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) and cannot infect anyone. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is made with live, weakened flu viruses. Don't get flu vaccine if you are allergic to eggs, had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past, developed Guillian-Barré syndrome (GBS), are less than six months of age, or if you have a moderate or severe illness with fever.
  • Wash and rinse hands frequently with soap and warm running water for 20 seconds. Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer and, if possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet.
  • Use tissues or your upper sleeve to cover your coughs and sneezes. Droplets from a cough or sneeze can travel up to six feet. Avoid crowds and shaking hands during outbreaks. Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Build two- to four-week stockpiles of supplies such as fever/pain reducer, cold/flu symptom medications, and anti-diarrheal medications, along with household cleaners, bleach, rubber gloves, face masks, garbage bags, and non-perishable food that is easy to prepare such as canned soup, granola bars, and crackers.
  • Clean and disinfect, frequently wiping surfaces like door knobs, phones, faucet, and food preparation areas with household disinfectant. Don't share linens, utensils, or dishes without washing first.
  • Know your office emergency plan and review personnel policies that penalize staff for staying home when they have a fever. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends all employers to assess the flu exposure risk for all employees and have a Continuity of Operations Plan that addresses critical functions, alternative work arrangements, and communications.
  • Learn home care. Keep a record of fever, other symptoms, and medications given. Get plenty of rest and drink clear fluids like water, broth, sports drinks, and electrolyte beverages for infants. Read the ingredients and follow the directions on medications to relieve sore throat, stuffy nose, cough, fever, aches, nausea, and diarrhea.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse.

Stay informed by visiting the ADPH seasonal influenza webpage at www.adph.org/influenza or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at www.cdc.gov/flu.

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