Almost half of the 56 infection practitioners surveyed reported that it is one of the worst flu seasons they have experienced.
The survey, which measured emergency department visits from October through early January, found that confirmed flu cases peaked in December with 5,680 ER visits and 459 admissions. The numbers represent about half of the state’s hospitals.
Pat Spiller, infection control specialist at Walker Baptist Medical Center, confirmed that flu season started earlier this year and grew increasingly severe.
“We are seeing a downward trend right now in positive flu cases, but they’re still out there,” Spiller said.
Locally, the season also peaked in December with 99 flu cases. Spiller said WBMC has had 12 flu cases so far in January.
WBMC saw its first patient with the flu in September. Flu season typically lasts from October to March or early April.
Spiller said WBMC has procedures in place to prevent the spread of flu within the hospital, including strongly encouraging employees to get a flu shot. Those who do not are required to wear a surgical mask any time they are within three to six feet of a patient.
The hospital also emphasizes hand washing. Last year, an automatic hand washing monitoring system was installed at the facility.
“We have had significant improvement in hand hygiene from the staff,” Spiller said.
Visitors can help protect patients by not bringing children and staying home if they are sick.
The Alabama Department of Public Health as well as Baptist Health System recommend that everyone over six months old should get a flu vaccine.
It is not too late to get a flu shot, which are not 100 percent effective but do prevent many cases and significantly decrease the severity and length of the illness in other cases.
Flu shots also do not cause the flu. Patients who get the flu after receiving the vaccine have been infected with the virus before the first symptoms appeared.
“You can spread it before you even know you have it. That’s why when one person gets it, everyone around them gets the flu. It’s very contagious, and you don’t even know you’re sick yet,” Spiller said.
Common flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, chills, fatigue and body aches.
The local flu information number is 387-4989.