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Number of flu cases 'state public health emergency'

Daily Mountain Eagle - 1/13/2018

A growing number of flu cases, including a wave of illness across Walker County, across the state has prompted Gov. Kay Ivey to declare a "State Public Health Emergency."

According to the notice on governor's website, "this outbreak poses a high probability of widespread exposure to an infectious agent that poses significant risk of substantial harm to a large number of people in the affect population." It continues, "the health care facilities and personnel of the state are overwhelmed by the number of ill patients and taxed to such an extent that care of patients may now no longer be provided in the traditional ... manner nor is the utilization of traditional ... standards of care possible."

Ivey's declaration notes, "Health care facilities that have invoked their emergency operation plans in response to this public health emergency may implement ... 'alternative standards of care' plans,"?which will be considered state-approved actions in response to the outbreak. Ivey also directed the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH)?and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to seek available federal help.

The Alabama Influenza Surveillance Map from the ADPH?declared there to be a widespread level of influenza across the state for the week ending on Jan. 6.

According to al.com, Dr. Scott Harris, the state's acting chief health officer, as saying that hospitals in seven of Alabama's eight health districts are at 90 percent capacity. At a press conference in Montgomery on Friday, Harris said the cases are "normal season flu" and that nothing is out of the ordinary, but there has been a spike in cases over the last two to three weeks.

Jonathan Allen, principal at T.R. Simmons Elementary School, and Jennifer Willingham, who serves as school nurse at T.R. Simmons, said the school has seen approximately 45 cases of flu since December, but that these cases seem to be typical of a high flu season. Allen said this number is dependent on parents informing teachers of their child's illness.

"It doesn't surprise us that we have this many cases but it is certainly something that is affecting student attendance," he added. "We always strive for 95 percent average daily attendance among the students and we have been around 90 percent during the months of December and January."

He explained that it's normal for attendance to be down in November, December and January, but said the number appears to be lower than usual this year.

Allen and Willingham also advised parents to keep children who have had a fever over 100 degrees to keep the child at home until they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours.

"That would be a tremendous help to protecting the other students," Allen added. "They need to try to quarantine themselves as much as possible when they're ill. The worst thing [parents] can do is think their child needs to be at school and send them to school sick."

Allen also said that T.R. Simmons is fortunate to have Willingham at the school each day to help students and parents.

Dr. Ann Jackson, superintendent of Jasper City Schools, reported on Friday that 20 students from Jasper High School and Jasper Junior High School were out this week with the flu, along with 15 students at T.R. Simmons and six at Memorial Park Elementary School. She said in an email that she was unsure about the number of absences from Maddox Intermediate School that were flu-related but that "it is much better than when school got out for the holidays."

Dora High School Principal Paige Abner said her students have been fortunate enough to have avoided the flu for the most part.

"We've been lucky," she said, "I'm stressing handwashing and providing additional cleaning supplies for classrooms."

Teresa Sherer, a pharmacist at Five Points Pharmacy, said the pharmacy had run out of flu prevention medication Tamiflu on Thursday but were able to secure more by Friday morning.

"We had a spike in flu cases right before Christmas and I think we ran out of [Tamiflu] then, too but we were able to get it right back in," she added.

Although they don't see as many cases as the urgent care and after hours clinics, Sherer said they saw 10 to 12 flu cases on Thursday, adding they "clean everything" to disinfect after a flu case has come through the pharmacy. "It's just so contagious right now," she added.

According to a separate article from al.com, Children's of Alabama issued its diversion protocol Thursday due to a bed shortage at the hospital. The website also reported that UAB Hospital is rescheduling some non-emergency elective surgeries which were originally scheduled for Thursday and Friday due to the hospital being over capacity due to flu patients.

Bob Phillips, CEO of Walker Baptist Medical Center in Jasper, and Pat Spiller, the hospital's infection prevention manager, said Friday afternoon that the hospital has seen an uptick in activity with flu and flu-like symptoms recently, in what Phillips described as a "rough flu season."

"Like many hospitals around the state, we're seeing higher volumes as a result of this stuff but we're managing that process and working through it," said Phillips. Although Phillips didn't have specific figures, he said there have been a large number of people present with flu-like symptoms and "given the scale of the situation around the state, the treatment protocols are to go on and treat it as flu if one presents with those kind of symptoms."

As far as how long it takes individuals to recover from the flu, Spiller said, "The incubation period is from five to seven days in a healthy person. Someone who's got a lot of comorbidities (simultaneous chronic diseases), they could have more complications that could make it a long recovery period."

But, she added, it's really "hanging on to folks" once they get sick.

Phillips encouraged people to stay home, especially if they have any symptoms, and to refrain from visiting relatives or friends who may be in the hospital if you are showing flu-like symptoms. Phillips and Spiller both advised people to wash their hands, cough into a sleeve and try to stay away from people who are already sick.

According to the ADPH, flu symptoms typically come on suddenly and can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.

The ADPH urges people with mild to moderate flu or flu-like symptoms to not go to their doctor's office without calling first and to not go to the emergency room.

"Please call your doctor to see if you are eligible for antivirals without an appointment," the department's website states. In addition, "employers and schools that require doctor excuses for absences are asked to waive this requirement during this time to encourage those who are sick to stay home and not spread the disease."


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