Alabama and Calhoun County might be seeing the beginning of the end of this year’s flu outbreak.
According to federal and state health agencies, the number of flu cases in the state is still significant, but has waned in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Regional Medical Center in Anniston saw half as many flu cases last week as it did less than a month ago. The decline comes after one of the worst flu seasons the state has seen in recent years, health experts say.
“We’ve seen a big decline in flu and flu-like symptoms,” said Edith Trammell, emergency room nurse manager at RMC.
Trammell said the hospital has been averaging around 100 flu cases a week this year, up until last week.
“Last week we probably saw less than 50,” she said. “It started going down at the start of last week ... it even went down more toward the end of the week.”
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, for the week ending Feb. 24, flu activity levels remained significant across the state. However, the report showed a consistent decline in the number of flu-like illnesses reported in the state from week to week.
A similar report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed similar data across the country.
“Yes, we do look like we’re going down, especially with last week’s data,” Dr. Karen Landers with the ADPH said of flu cases in the state. “We hope things will continue to go down.”
Landers said this flu season has been one of the worst for Alabama in recent years.
The flu outbreak has taken its toll on the state.
According to ADPH, 127 deaths that were possibly flu-related have been reported in the state so far this year.
Dr. Bernard Camins, associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said Jefferson County had also seen a decline in flu cases.
“We certainly have seen it come down, but we still see sporadic flu patients,” Camins said, referring to UAB hHospital.
Some health experts have attributed the rise in flu cases this season to the latest vaccine, which was reported as being only between 30 percent and 40 percent effective. The CDC still recommends the flu vaccine as the best way to prevent infection.
“It doesn’t hurt to get it yearly,” Camins said.
Landers noted that the flu season is still above average for the year.
“We’re certainly not at a point where we need to let our guard down,” Landers said. “We could certainly see some more activity for a few weeks.”
Landers recommended residents still cover their coughs and wash their hands regularly.
Camins also said the flu could still linger in the area for a few more weeks.
“Here for us, it's definitely on the way out, but since it took so long for the season to peak, it could take a while to dwindle completely,” Camins said.
Trammell said the hospital would maintain visitor restrictions for the time being.
In January, RMC, along with its Stringfellow Memorial Hospital campus in Anniston and RMC Jacksonville, restricted visits to two adults per patient. Also, children under 12 years old are temporarily prohibited from hospital visits.
“Just because of the severity of the season, we’ll keep those restrictions in place a little bit longer, just to make sure,” Trammell said.