The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 27, 2013

Flu 'geographically widespread' across state

By Lora Scripps

— The flu is making its way across the state and state officials are reporting elevated flu levels.

Last week, Alabama Department of Public Health officials reported influenza-like illness activity as “geographically widespread.”

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control have reported the flu is widespread in four Southern states including Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Dr. Mary McIntrye, assistant health officer for disease control and prevention for the Alabama Department of Public Health said all positive specimens in the state have been identified as Influenza A, 2009 H1N1.

McIntrye said, when compared to last year, what officials are seeing is not as severe or widespread as 2012, but still significant.

Local pharmacists agree the flu has made its way to Limestone County.

Flu-like symptoms include high fever, achiness, chills and upper respiratory symptoms such as cough, a runny nose and headaches.

Limestone Drug pharmacist Heath Chittam said he has seen an increase in prescriptions for Tamiflu — a drug used to treat the flu — over the past week. The pharmacy is seeing anywhere from six to 10 people a day. Chittam said Limestone Drug has plenty of Tamiflu in stock.

Some places haven’t been so lucky. Pharmacist Billy Cannon of Eastside Pharmacy said the location has Tamiflu in stock, but other places have been running out.

“Wholesalers only had a limited supply and were rationing between pharmacies,” he said. “They were limiting what some pharmacies could get.

“When it hit, it hit hard.”

Eastside Pharmacy has averaged about five people requesting Tamiflu a day.

Cannon said he typically sees more people requesting the prescription after the holidays, but said it could go all the way to April. 

According to Chittam, Limestone Drug will probably see more and more people with the flu as soon as school starts back and people go back to work.

Pharmacists and state officials agree the best thing for the flu is inoculation.

Although vaccinations are no longer available at the Limestone County Health Department, according to McIntrye, she said providers still have them in stock.

Cannon of Eastside Pharmacy said vaccinations are still available.

“For the most part, it is covering the flu that we have here,” Cannon said. “Some people are still getting the symptoms, but it’s only lasting a short period of time. “

“It’s not too late to get the vaccine,” McIntrye said. “The best thing to do is get the flu shot.” She added that if someone develops early signs and symptoms of influenza, they should contact their providers as soon as possible. Medicine can significantly help reduce the severity of the symptoms, according to McIntrye, and it needs to be taken within 24 to 48 hours of the first symptoms.

Other tips for fighting the flu include frequent hand washing as well as staying home when sick and not eating or drinking after someone who is sick.

Those who are sick should also cover their cough, according to McIntrye.

“Go ahead and get the shot,” McIntrye stressed. “People think the flu is only here in the winter, but we have a background where we see it throughout the year.”