After nine people in the area have died from the flu over the past two months, the number of new flu cases in the region appears to be tapering off.
The 2009 H1N1 influenza strain is being blamed for a large number of working-age patients — between 18 to 50 years old — suffering from flu symptoms and hospitalizations. In the past two months, Cullman Regional Medical Center reported three flu-related deaths, with all three victims under 55 years old. Decatur General Hospital reported four flu-related deaths earlier this month, and Lawrence County Coroner Scott Norwood reported two deaths — one of which included a 25-year-old man— in his county.
Walker Baptist Medical Center reported no flu-related deaths as of Monday, but it has had 114 positive flu cases since flu season began Oct. 1, said Renae McKinney, hospital marketing director.
“What’s unusual is most of those flu cases are people 25 to 49 years old,” McKinney said. “I guess that’s the age group where a lot of people are busy working and aren’t thinking about getting a flu shot.”
The flu usually poses the greatest threat to the young and elderly.
Dr. G. Scott Warner, a pulmonologist at Chest Medicine of Cullman, wasn’t sure why the flu was affecting those between 20 and 50 years old more significantly, but he speculated that the age group is “less vigilant about getting their vaccinations and preventing the flu that older and younger populations.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 4,615 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported between Oct. 1, 2013 and Jan. 18. Those between18-64 accounted for 61 percent of reported hospitalized cases. Last flu season, those 65 years and older accounted for 50 percent of flu-related hospitalizations while those between18-49 made up 16.6 percent.
Fortunately, the number of flu cases seems to be trending downward, locally and nationally. Positive flu cases at CRMC declined recently down to 10 percent of those tested after averaging between 25 to 28 percent each week of December, hospital officials said. The CDC reported the number of flu tests in the third week of January fell to 151 from a peak of 561 total tests the week before. Of those 151 specimens tested for the week ended Jan. 18, 17.2 percent came back positive compared to a peak of 33.4 percent positive tests the last week of 2013.
Of the 12,108 total specimens tested nationally through the week ended Jan. 18, 23 percent — or 2,793 — came back positive, and H1N1 made up nearly 62 percent — or 1,727— of those positive tests. During the past three weeks, 29 percent of specimens submitted to the Bureau of Clinical Laboratories (BCL) tested positive for influenza, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. All 58 positive specimens were identified as Influenza A, 2009 H1N1.
Since Sept. 29, influenza is being blamed for the deaths of 28 children nationally. While the flu is widespread in 41 states, activity in Alabama is considered moderate while nearby Tennessee is experiencing high activity, and in Georgia, flu activity is minimal.
This year’s flu vaccine contains two influenza A strains — the 2009 H1N1virus and H3N2 — and an influenza B strain.
Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.