The number of those suffering from winter flu or flu-like symptoms is surging across the area and the state as flu season kicks into high gear across the Southeast.
This week, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced health care providers’ reports of influenza-like symptoms and flu samples indicate the infectious virus has become widespread across the state for a third consecutive week. Local pharmacies and doctors’ offices also report an uptick in the number of patients coming in for relief from symptoms like fever, runny nose, coughing and muscle pains.
“We’ve seen a big increase over the past two weeks or so,” said pharmacist Susan Adkinson at Medical Arts Apothecary in Cullman. “A lot of people are coming in to get prescriptions filled for Tamiflu (medication used to treat the flu) and their flu shots.”
According to Dr. Karen Landers, assistant sate health officer, the predominant strain circulating this season has been H1N1, commonly known as swine flu which became a pandemic in 2009 that killed more than 14,000 worldwide. One characteristic of the H1N1 strain is that young and middle-aged adults seem to have a greater chance of getting severe influenza.
Of the 6,813 specimens tested by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) between Dec. 15- 21, 24 percent came back positive for influenza. Of those 1,610 positive cases, 915 — nearly 57 percent — were the H1N1 strain.
Adkinson and Tony Black, pharmacist at Ed Holcombe Pharmacy in Cullman, said they were not aware of any cases of patients with the H1N1 strain specifically, however the number of those suffering from general flu symptoms has increased in recent weeks.
“I attribute it to the holidays, families and friends getting together for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and passing it that way,” Black said. “It’s the little gift that keeps on giving.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health advised those, ages six months old and up, who have not gotten their annual flu immunization to do so. Vaccines, via shot or nasal spray, are still readily available with no reports of shortages, Landers said.
“Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others,” Landers said. “It’s not too late to get a flu vaccination to protect against this serious disease. People become protected about two weeks after receiving the vaccine.”
Other tips to avoid spreading the flu include: staying at home when sick, covering mouth and nose with tissue or cloth when coughing and sneezing and washing hands or using hand sanitizer frequently.
To receive a flu vaccination, contact your local health care provider, pharmacy or the Cullman County Health Department at 256-734-1030.
* Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.