Alabama among states most effected by flu outbreak

Published 12:14am Wednesday, December 12, 2012

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama has been identified as one of eight states showing a widespread outbreak of the flu virus.

With this outbreak, several area schools have seen increased absences due to flu-like symptoms.

“With the weather going back and forth from cold to hot, we’ve been having a large amount of kids report absent,” said Mike Blair, Dallas County High School principal. “A lot of them have been out with the flu or stomach virus.”

A Morgan Academy faculty member said the highest number of absences for the school was Monday, but she expects that number to increase.

“The flu and stomach virus have hit us hard,” the faculty member said. “We had 18 absent Friday and 30 [Monday].”

Merrill South, director of community relations at Vaughan Regional Medical Center, said the hospital has seen several patients with a flu-like virus in recent weeks.

“Flu season has presented itself nearly a month ahead of what we saw in 2011,” South said.

For the Selma-Dallas County area, the 2011 flu season began the last week of December, peaked in the middle of February and ended the last week of March. With the flu presenting earlier than expected, South said she expects flu season to last longer and advised that all residents receive a flu vaccination if they haven’t already.

Other states showing high incidences of the flu virus according to the CDC include: Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Alaska.

Dr. Sais Namburu of Selma Urgent Care said he’s seen several cases of influenza A, or the H3N2 virus, recently.

“There have been a lot of cases in Alabama and it will probably pick up once the cold weather hits,” Namburu said. “We are seeing anywhere from six to 10 people per day come in with flu symptoms.”

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, flu season usually begins after Christmas, but activity began as early as Nov. 1 this year.

“We’ve already hit high activity in the past week,” said Dr. Mary McIntyre, state health officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health. “It’s come very early this year.”

Although Alabama and other southern states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have seen high activity in recent weeks, McIntyre said this doesn’t mean the virus won’t spread elsewhere.

“We’re trying to advise people everywhere if they haven’t received the flu shot to get one because you can reduce the severity of the illness and prevent it from spreading,” McIntyre said.

The flu can also manifest itself in several ways, McIntyre said, including gastrointestinal infections, or more commonly known as the stomach bug.

According to the CDC, common flu symptoms include aches, chest discomfort, chills, fatigue, sore throat and fever.

“If you’re showing any of these symptoms, It’s wise not to go to school or work because you put others at risk for catching the flu,” McIntyre said.

For more information on the flu and ways to prevent it, visit cdc.org or adph.org.

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  • Scott

    The Cochrane Library (Cochrane Collabotation) is viewed by many as the gold standard when it comes to interpreting studies related to medicine. Even current chairmen of the CDC’s Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices (ACIP), Jonathan Temte, MD, has quoted some of their studies, when making his presentation advocating health care worker influenza vaccination. In 2010 the Cochrane Library researchers determined influenza vaccination in healthy adults has only a modest benefit in reducing your chances of missing work due to the flu, and “insufficient evidence” to reach conclusions on its effect on hospital admission rates or complications (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17443504). Another Cochrane review determined that there is no evidence influenza vaccination had any benefit of preventing transmission from health care workers to the elderly in long-term care facilities (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20166073). It’s reasonable to extrapolate from this that the elderly in LTCFs are probably not much less vulnerable to viral transmission than the elderly in hospitals.

    Ironically, or maybe not, the CDC is known to evaluate private studies that get printed in journals which are substantially financed by ad revenue from drug companies. Cochrane Library researchers looks at public studies as well as private and have identified a bias in the CDC’s selection of studies it chooses to reach its conclusions. But would a health care worker want to be a recipient of an injectable flu vaccine because on the CDC’s recommendation when the CDC is cherry picking a subset of favorable, private studies while ignoring others showing no benefit?

    Ignoring confounders. Influenza is clearly harder on the very young, the very old and the immunocompromised. What the very young and old have in common is the propensity for having a weakened immune system. Weight control, diet, 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels, sleep habits, exercise and more significantly impact one’s immune health and to not factor these variables into studies renders such weak in their import.

    The ethical obligation argument. Name a hospital that requires visitors to show yearly proof of influenza vaccination? If a patient that is elibible to receive the flu vaccine refuses it their choice is granted. If the concern is for the well-being of health care personnel and patients why are only health care workers on the wrong side of the line of discrimination? This speaks to the credibility of most of those who put forth the “ethical” argument.

    Vaccination is the best documented and effective intervention to prevent influenza transmission? Cochrane summaries refute this. Moreover, as suggested with the confounders argument, the comparison of various existing strategies against untested strategies is grossly lacking. Retrospective studies looking at influenza infection rates in the vaccinated verses unvaccinated populations are sorely lacking. Long-term prospective studies following adverse reactions aren’t being conducted (the VAERS system lacks rigid guidelines).

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