The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 22, 2014

Not too late to get flu vaccine

By Lora Scripps

— By now, most people either know or have heard about someone suffering from the flu.

The virus is considered widespread in most of the country and high flu activity is likely to continue for several weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

The CDC’s most recent reports consider Alabama to have regional flu activity, which is a decrease from widespread activity in late December. However, the virus is still being treated across Limestone County.

Peak season for the flu is typically between late-January to February, according to pharmacist Dwight Banta of Southside Pharmacy in Tanner, who added the peak season could be as late as March.

Banta is currently filling two to three prescriptions a day for virus sufferers. He said there is plenty of Tamiflu, a prescription drug used to treat the flu, in stock. Anyone with flu-like symptoms should start taking the drug within 24-48 hours of symptoms, according to state health officials.

Symptoms of the flu are similar to a cold, but more severe. Symptoms might include a headache, coughing, aching muscles, fever, fatigue and weakness. The flu generally affects children and the elderly the hardest. Yet, hospital officials across the nation have said most patients hospitalized for severe flu this year have been between age 20 and 60.  

Banta is also still administering vaccinations. “You can still get injections,” Banta said. “It’s coming up to the general height of the season and is definitely worth doing.”

Neighboring Morgan County officials have reported that as many as six residents might have died from the flu or flu-related symptoms. The reports were not definitive. Though, four of the six had tested positive for influenza.

Athens-Limestone Hospital has not had any flu-related deaths, according to Development Director Betsy Harris.

Limestone Coroner Mike West said he hasn’t seen any flu-related deaths as well.

Athens-Limestone Hospital has seen a number of patients diagnosed with the flu.

“The HINI virus is the most prevalent flu virus we are experiencing and it is included in the 2013-2014 flu vaccination,” said hospital infection preventionist Michael Estremera. “It’s not too late to get the flu shot and it will give you protection against not only H1NI, but other flu strains as well.”

After a vaccination, it generally takes about two weeks for the body to develop antibodies that provide protection against infection, according to hospital officials. The vaccine does not give 100 percent immunity to the flu, but it will lessen symptoms.

Officials encourage those with asthma, heart disease, diabetes or COPD to be extra vigilant in preventing the flu.

Athens-Limestone Hospital gives patient experiencing flu-like symptoms a “flu bag” in order to keep the virus from spreading within the facility. The bag includes a mask, hand sanitizer and tissues, according to Harris. Patients who have flu-like symptoms are also separated from others as much as possible to keep the virus from spreading.

Outside the emergency room, officials encourage frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers to help prevent the virus. Other tips include staying home when sick, changing clothes when you arrive home from public places, not eating or drinking after someone who is sick and disinfecting or sanitizing the places where germs live at work and home including doorknobs, counter tops, desks, telephones and remote controls.