Flu activity remains high in state, county

Published 3:51 pm Friday, January 11, 2013

By KATIE MCDOWELL/Lifestyles Editor

Flu activity remains high across Alabama, State Health Officer Dr. Donald Williamson said in a Jan. 11 press conference.

“It’s certainly worse than the flu season of 2011,” he said.

Williamson said the flu season historically starts in January, but it began earlier this year.

“This year’s flu season really began to take off in November,” he said.

Williamson said flu activity remained high in December and will likely remain higher than normal through March.

Shelby County medical centers and schools have also seen a busy flu season.

Susan Blumstein, infection prevention manager of Shelby Baptist Medical Center, said they have seen an increase in the number of people with flu-like symptoms.

“We are seeing a higher than normal level,” she said.

Blumstien said most of the people with the flu have been out patient, although some have been hospitalized. Blumstein said most of the hospitalized patients have been “more at-risk,” such as people with asthma, compromised immune systems, lungs disease or those over the age of 65.

Cindy Warner, public relations supervisor for the Shelby County School System, said school absences peaked in late 2012.

“We are not seeing any high absences right now,” she said in an email interview. “We are running in the 3-4 percent absentee range at all of our schools as opposed to 7-10 percent that we were seeing at some schools in late November and early December.”

While the school does not record the reason for school absences, several medical clinics across the county reported seeing many patients with the flu in late 2012.

The circulating flu strain is H3, which typically causes more severe symptoms, Williams said.

Williamson said there is plenty of flu vaccine and Tamiflu, which can shorten the severity of symptoms and duration of the illness, available at county health departments and private clinics across the state. He also said the circulating flu and the available vaccine are a “good match.”

Williamson said the vaccine is about 60-80 percent effective, but it doesn’t become effective until about two weeks after it is administered.

If a person contracts the flu after receiving the vaccine, it will limit the severity and duration of the illness.

“If you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated,” he said.

Williamson also offered tips to limit the spread of the flu, including washing your hands frequently, coughing into your elbow and staying home from work or school if you have flu symptoms.