Flu cases are up

Published 4:00 am Saturday, January 1, 2011

Local physicians have seen some increase in influenza symptoms over the past week with the official beginning of flu season still a week away.
Dr. Jonathan Southworth said patients at his office have shown an increase in symptoms associated with the virus.
“We did see quite a few new cases last week and have seen some this week,” Southworth said. “We’ve also seen a considerable amount of upper respiratory illnesses. Those illnesses are viral but aren’t the flu.”
According to officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health, influenza activity has seen a rise in Alabama and is being seen as a significant increase.
Data released by the ADPH shows influenza-like illnesses represented almost 11 percent of physician office visit during the week of Dec. 12 through 18. During the previous week, only about 6 percent of visits were for flu-like illnesses.
Although many local physicians offered the flu vaccine as early as October, most physicians are still able to administer the vaccine to those who failed to get the shot.
Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer, said getting the vaccine now may still offer considerable benefits to those who failed to get the vaccine this fall.
“There is still an ample supply of vaccine,” Williamson said. ‘Influenza is a disease of the lungs and it can lead to pneumonia, hospitalization and even death. Talk to your healthcare provider now about scheduling a flu shot as soon as possible.”
Southworth said getting a flu vaccine is still possible and is a good idea.
“It takes a week or so to see the vaccine take effect,” Southworth said. “There is still plenty of time to get the shot and getting the shot can still be very beneficial.”
Southworth said even with the flu vaccine can’t keep everyone safe from illnesses including flu.
“The big thing is for people to stay home when they are sick,” Southworth said. “Following all the suggestions for limiting exposure to viruses should be followed. Wash your hands often and covering your cough or sneeze is good advice. But, the most important thing is to stay at home from work or school if you are sick. Viruses can be passed easily.”
More people die from complications of the flu than from any other vaccine-preventable disease, according to ADPH data. Most deaths are in those over 65 years of age. There are two kinds of flu vaccine, but neither will give a person the flu. The flu shot vaccine is made from killed influenza viruses, and the nasal spray vaccine is made from weakened influenza viruses that cannot cause influenza.
Williamson said results from influenza testing performed at the Alabama Department of Public Health Bureau of Clinical Laboratories over the past two weeks indicate there are three strains of influenza circulating in Alabama: type A (2009H1N1), type A (H3) and type B. Of the specimens submitted, 92 percent are influenza type B.  All three of these strains are in this season’s influenza vaccine.
ADPH Flu Facts
An influenza vaccine can be administered to children as young as 6 months of age.
People in good health still need flu shots to protect themselves and others with whom they live and have contact.
Alabama’s peak influenza season usually does not begin until January and it continues through March.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for a person to develop protective antibodies.
In addition, everyone should take steps to prevent transmission of disease and are reminded to follow these precautions:
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a sleeve or tissue.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective.
• Avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose with your hands. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
• If you get sick, stay home and limit contact with others to avoid infecting them.
For more information on the availability of influenza vaccines or to schedule a vaccine, contact personal healthcare providers or the Escambia County Health Department at 867-5765.

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