DECATUR, AL (WHNT) - Thirteen hundred patients were treated at Decatur Morgan Hospital's emergency room for flu-like symptoms last month, and many of them tested positive for the flu. Tuesday, hospital administrators confirmed at least 4 of those patients died of complications from influenza while still other patients remain in isolation at the hospital fighting for their lives.
Dr. Scott Harris, an infectious disease specialist, says it's the H1N1 virus, nicknamed swine flu several years ago when it first emerged. It's a strain that seems to hit young people the hardest, and Harris says it is hitting North Alabama particularly hard right now.
"We had about 13-hundred people (in December) who presented with an influenza-like illness," Harris told reporters Tuesday afternoon. He added, "About 235 of those were positive for flu-A."
Harris says the state health department and Centers for Disease Control both verify what they're seeing at the hospital.
Says Harris, "There's a big outbreak of flu worldwide, but particularly country-wide anyway. And in the Southern U.S. and the East Coast there are big outbreaks of H1N1 influenza."
Harris reminds us the flu is not an airborne virus. He says it is spread by moisture droplets created when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can live on surfaces outside the body for up to 8 hours. Once you touch an infected surface and then put your fingers to your nose, eyes or mouth, you've been exposed. Symptoms can manifest themselves within 2 to 3 days after exposure.
"This flu is bad for all age groups. i mean people who are older and people who are very, very young, like children, still die from this like they do from any influenza. But people who are sort of adolescent to their mid-40's particularly seem to be susceptible to the more severe forms of this."
Harris stresses you should wash your hands and clean surfaces that others might have touched. But he says the best defense against the flu is still an immunization. If you have not yet gotten a flu shot, it's not too late.
Reporter's note: A spokesperson for Athens Limestone Hospital tells us they did not record any flu-related deaths over the past 90 days and did not immediately have an accounting of how many people came to their emergency room with flu-like symptoms. They also did not have readily available the number of persons who were tested for the flu or who tested positive for the flu.
A spokesperson for Huntsville Hospital tells us for the period of time from October through mid-January, they administered approximately 133 more flu tests this year as compared to the same period of time a year ago with "no significant increase in the number of positive test results."