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Hospitals, pharmacies, schools combat AL flu outbreak

Updated: Jan. 15, 2018 at 10:33 PM CST
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(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
ADPH press conference (Source: WAFF 48 News)
ADPH press conference (Source: WAFF 48 News)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - The flu is now officially an epidemic in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Every state except Hawaii is reporting widespread illness.

In Alabama, state health leaders say it's a crisis situation due to the number of people with the flu.

Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state public health emergency to help increase awareness and also allow hospitals more flexibility with treating patients.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, significant flu activity has been reported in almost every county, including Madison, Morgan, Limestone, Jackson and Marshall Counties.

"We have very high influenza activity throughout the state, particularly in the metropolitan areas and so that's led to a crush in hospitals. We see very little hospital capacity left in the state. About 20 of the 67 counties have somewhat less than 10 percent capacity available. Several hospitals are operating over capacity which means they have patients sitting in the emergency department waiting for a bed to open up," said Dr. Scott Harris, acting state health officer.

Wanda Pearsall has heard so much about the flu lately as it continues to impact Alabama so she went to the Star Discount Pharmacy in the Five Points area of Huntsville on Monday to get a flu shot.

"I think I need one. There's so much going around with it right now. I kind of got afraid. When I go to church, I hear that this person and that person and everyone has it in their family some way or another," she said.

Darden Heritage, the pharmacist at Star Pharmacy, stressed to Wanda and others that the flu vaccine may take up to two weeks to get full immunity built up in your system but it's still your best line of defense, protecting you from future rounds of the flu.

Many are in need of Tamiflu, which can decrease the severity and duration of symptoms.

"We're seeing patients that are already sick getting Tamiflu, and we're seeing others get Tamiflu from their physician who've been exposed to the flu. We're also seeing people coming in who haven't been to a physician yet asking for symptomatic treatment, over the counter products," Heritage said. "We are seeing a lot of patients sick and ill with the flu, more so than past years."

Huntsville City Schools addressed the flu on Monday, releasing the following statement:

As you may already know, the Alabama Department of Public Health has indicated that influenza-like illnesses have been widespread in the state, and across the nation.

Huntsville City Schools is doing everything possible to protect the health of our students and staff and limit the spread of any illnesses. Our custodians and school staff have specific products to clean all areas of each school to help disinfect our buildings, and they take extra steps to clean items such as door handles, handrails, and other high contact surfaces. Our school nurses are staying informed and monitoring the situation on a daily basis.

We also ask your help to limit the spread of germs by keeping your child home if they are sick. Our procedures require that a child not return to school until 24 hours after the last episode of such symptoms as fever, skin rash, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory cough, etc.

Preventative tips for the home include, washing your hands often, disinfecting common contact surfaces, covering your coughs and sneezes, staying home if you have fever, and calling your physician if symptoms get worse.

The health and well-being of our students, staff, and parents is our top priority at Huntsville City Schools and we ask you to follow our health procedures and tips to help everyone.

"We generally consider people to be infectious for something like five to seven days so even after they begin getting well, they typically want to stay home from work or stay home from school somewhere between five to seven days. Children can sometimes be contagious even longer, so if you have children who have been sick, please consider keeping those kids at home," Harris said.

Some hospitals, including Huntsville Hospital, are asking people not to visit patients if they are experiencing flu like symptoms.  High volumes and an ongoing shortage of fluids used to deliver medicine and treat dehydrated patients continue to create challenges in the midst of this nasty flu season.

Huntsville Hospital officials say they're monitoring the situation with national saline supplies and working to identify alternate vendors.

You can protect yourself and your family from the flu by taking simple steps.

"We're still encouraging everyone to get a flu vaccine. It's available. It's not perfect but it does work. It can take a few weeks for maximum effectiveness. If there's someone out there listening tonight who has not had their flu vaccine, they should do it today," Harris said.

"If you're sick, stay at home if you can do that. Get in touch with your healthcare provider. Use routine good cough etiquette and hygiene. Wash your hands. The people we're going to be most worried about with influenza are elderly patients, pregnant women and small children," he added.

Pharmacies are working to keep their Tamiflu supply going strong. Pharmacists say some locations are out of it.

"We have plenty. We buy from several different wholesalers. We've seen where one wholesaler has been out and another supplier will have it. We're monitoring everyone's supply to make sure we don't run out,' Heritage said.

He's protecting his staff with hand sanitizers at every station and Clorox wipes to wipe down counters.

"We're being exposed to it daily. That's what they're doing at the hospitals too, even wearing masks," he said. "Keep your hands washed. Keep your hands away from your face. Good hygiene is the number one thing."

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