Widespread flu being reported across country

Published 8:16 pm Wednesday, December 31, 2014

By Blake Deshazo

The Selma Times-Journal

A widespread epidemic of flu is affecting people in Selma and Dallas County. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama is among 21 other states that are going through high levels of flu-like illnesses.

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“A third of our patient population has had some form of flu-like symptoms,” said Pam Bjelke, a nurse at Selma Medical Associates. “This year, beginning Dec. 1, we have had five positive (tests), but those are just the people that came in sick. We have just been inundated with calls from people that were so sick they could not come in.”

Bjelke said it was out of the ordinary to have so many positive tests this early in the flu season. Last year at this time, Selma Medical Associates had zero positive influenza tests, according to Bjelke.

“I don’t know how there could be any Tamiflu left in this town,” Bjelke said. “We have been just pouring it out. This is an early beginning for flu season. We usually peak in February.”

According to the latest data from the CDC, which covers the week ending Dec. 20, 6,152 of the 21,858 specimens that were tested that week were positive for influenza.

Bjelke said her office has been treating people left and right for flu and flu-like symptoms.

“We’ve given a ton of antibiotics and cortisone shots,” Bjelke said.

“People are being treated with antibiotics and Tamiflu because they are so sick. We’ve had people that said they could not get out of bed for five days because the headache was so severe.”

Bjelke said the five people that tested positive all had strain A, which accounts for most of the flu cases in recent weeks.

According to Bjelke, all five people that tested positive had flu shots, but they still contracted the virus. Despite strain A not being included in this year’s flu vaccine, she encourages people to get the shot because it can lessen the symptoms.

“It is never too late to get a flu shot because even though some people are testing positive for strain A, (people) don’t want to get strain A and B at the same time,” Bjelke said. “No one has been positive here for (strain) B.”

Bjelke encourages people to make hand washing a habit and to stay away from others that show flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and body aches.

The most recent data from the CDC indicates that four pediatric deaths occurred during the week that ended Dec. 20. None of those occurred in Alabama.