Flu shot County Health Department

Calhoun County Health Dept. RN Amanda Watson gives Wanda Huggins of Oxford a flu shot during a free flu clinic at the Calhoun County Health Dept. in Anniston in January. (Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star/file)

The flu outbreak is still widespread across the United States, including Alabama, and the rate of infection could keep rising for several weeks, federal health officials said Friday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 states are reporting that flu activity is widespread and that flu-related hospitalizations are now significantly higher than earlier this season. Also, because flu seasons typically last around 20 weeks and the current season is only in week 11, more infections could be on the way, CDC officials say.

Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, said flu activity is now as high as was observed during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

“That doesn’t mean we’re having a pandemic now, but it’s a signal of how intense this season has been.”

A flu pandemic occurs when a new flu virus that has never been identified is reported.

Schuchat said the CDC did not yet know if the current flu season had reached its peak.

“We could see several more weeks of activity,” Schuchat said.

CDC statistics show there were an additional 10 pediatric flu-related deaths in the U.S. last week, for a total of 63 children killed by the flu so far this season.

The Alabama Department of Public Health is investigating 87 possibly flu-related deaths, the agency said today. Last week, the state said it was investigating 52 deaths possibly related to flu.

Calhoun County has not escaped high flu activity this season. Earlier this week, some county school systems, businesses and government agencies reported experiencing higher than normal cases of flu this year, although nothing has had to shut down as a result.

Edith Trammell, emergency room nurse manager at Regional Medical Center in Anniston, said Friday that the hospital was still seeing higher than usual numbers of flu patients, as it has since last month.

“It’s one of the most intense flu seasons we’ve had ... I can’t remember seeing anything like this in a long time,” Trammell said. “It’s going through whole families ... we had seven or eight patients just this morning.”

Trammell noted that no RMC patients had died from the flu this year and that the high rate of cases hadn’t impeded emergency room services.

“Most of them we’re able to treat and send home,” Trammell said.

Trammell added that the hospital’s visiting restrictions were still in place.

Last month, RMC started restricting visits to two adults per patient to keep the flu from spreading. Also, children younger than 12 are temporarily prohibited from hospital visits. The hospital has also provided visitors with protective masks to prevent the spread of the flu.

The CDC states the flu vaccine is still the best way to prevent infection, even though there are reports the shot is less effective than previous years.

“It’s definitely still worth going to get,” said Windon Edge, assistant professor of nursing at Jacksonville State University. “Any protection is better than no protection.”

Edge said residents can also help keep from contracting the flu by avoiding people who already have it. Edge said everyone should wash their hands regularly and use hand sanitizer.

“I recommend keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer around at work,” Edge said.

People living with others who do have the flu should disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, and especially television remotes, Edge said.

“Everybody at home touches the TV remote,” he said.

 

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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