It’s time to get out the hand sanitizer and wash hands more frequently as the flu season has significantly spread throughout the state. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the East Central district, which includes Tallapoosa County, has had 4.6% of outpatient visits due to influenza-like illness (ILI) reported to the department as of Nov. 30.
The statewide ILI threshold concern is 3.19%, but it is currently high at 4.83%.
Russell Medical certified registered nurse practitioner Tammy Coker said about one in 20 healthcare visits are for treatment of flu symptoms.
“It is on the rise both in our ER and our clinics, not to mention our urgent care as well,” Coker said.
The reason flu numbers are higher right now is because of the holiday travel season, according to Coker. People travel across the coasts through flying then spread it across the nation. People are going to or from the South carrying the flu with them, according to Coker.
She said Alabama healthcare providers are seeing more patients with Strand B than Strand A by a 60-40 ratio.
“We have actually seen patients with both strands of the flu, A and B,” Coker said. “Make sure if you do start having these symptoms, get tested quickly so that you’re in that window to where an antiviral therapy can help you, like Tamiflu.”
Coker said medications such as Tamiflu don’t cure the flu but can manage symptoms. Those who take it usually recover in three days instead of the typical five to seven days it takes to recover without medication.
The most common flu symptoms are fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches and fatigue. Coker said it’s important to remember these symptoms start suddenly and aren’t slow like a common cold.
When someone suddenly feels these symptoms, he or she should call a healthcare provider to see if they should get tested for the flu, according to Coker. Getting to a doctor sooner to help prevent transmission.
Coker said the flu vaccine is still highly recommended for people to get through January.
“It takes probably two weeks after you’re vaccinated for the antibodies to develop protection for you,” Coker said. “Getting it now is not too late.”
Seniors 65 and older can ask their healthcare providers for Fluzone, which is the vaccine with four times the antigen protector, according to Coker. She said elderly people are the most at risk for getting the flu.
No pediatric deaths have been reported to the state this season.
Flu deaths occur by dehydration and secondary illnesses such as pneumonia, according to Coker.
People can avoid contracting the flu by frequently washing their hands and avoiding large crowds. Coker advises carrying hand sanitizer while in public.
“A big thing people don’t often think about (while) shopping is the shopping carts like at Walmart,” Coker said. “When you put your hand on that, your hand is behind 40 people who have used it during the day who may have coughed, sneezed, been flu positive, sick there picking up their prescriptions.”
People should cover their coughs with their shoulders, armpits or a cloth, according to Coker. People should also cover their mouths around others who are coughing.
The state’s health department releases weekly updates on the flu, which can be found at www.alabamapublichealth.gov/influenza.