Flu affects children, 10-15

Published 12:27 am Thursday, September 10, 2009

SELMA — If you have a high fever, a non-productive cough; if you ache all over and have a headache, chances are you have the flu.

It’s not the season. Generally, flu hits the area in December or January. But it’s here. Dr. Allan Hicks, the emergency room medical director at Vaughan Regional Medical Center has seen the flu during the last few weeks. Primarily the illness is centered more in children than anywhere else.

“We see about 120 patients a day,” Hicks said, “probably 40 to 50 of those are flu. The predominate age is from about 10 years to 15 years old. We’ve seen very few adults so far and very few younger than 10 years old.”

The big question: Is it swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus?

“It’s Influenza A and right now because it’s not a seasonal flu, it’s considered the swine flu,” Hicks said. “So by CDC [Centers for Disease Control] standards, it’s the swine flu.”

State public health officials say the reason Alabama and other Southern states have reported more cases of swine flu is because school starts earlier in the South than elsewhere in other parts of the nation.

Dr. Don Williamson, the state health officer , said in the past three weeks, the number of schools in the state reporting more than 5 percent of students absent is at 54 percent. The norm is 5 percent.

Four people have died from the flu, Williamson said.

The fourth person to die from the virus was an 18-year-old Troy University student who died Friday.

Generally, however, people in good health need not worry about much more than feeling really bad, the physician said.

Hicks said people who have underlying medical conditions need to get in touch with their physician or go to the emergency room if they feel like they’re coming down with the flu. Underlying medical conditions can cover a plethora of things, including diabetes or heart conditions.

“But if you’re a 20-year-old and in generally good medical condition, you probably can just ride it out,” Hicks said.

Those who want to help themselves can stay at home and stay away from sick people because that’s how the flu spreads. Take over-the-counter medicine for aches and fever and get some cough medicine, Hicks said.

“Honestly, if you’re worried, you need to see a doctor,” he said.

And the medical center staff is doing all it can to prevent people from getting sick with the flu while at the hospital. Already, the hospital had begun limiting children under the age of 12 from visiting patients on the floor.

This action is as much for the protection of young children as it is for their patients, said Barry Keel, the medical center’s administrator.

While there some absenteeism increasing at the hospital, staff have increased their protective measures against catching or transferring the illness. For instance, in corridors, visitors will see extra hand sanitizing stations on the walls.

Keel said the hospital is using “normal type of behaviors to increase sanitation practices of the staff and increase education of the staff of what they are practicing on a daily basis and take every step we can to prevent it from spreading or to prevent spreading it to other people.”