Sick for the holidays
Vaccine in short supply in county
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Sniffling and coughing – those are the sounds of the season this holiday.
State health officials are reporting higher than average numbers of influenza, closing down schools in areas as close as Blount County.
Nationally, experts are saying the country could be facing the worst influenza outbreak since the 1998-99 season, when 64,684 deaths were linked to the outbreak. Already, six deaths in Colorado have been linked to the latest influenza outbreak and the supply of flu vaccine is running short throughout the country.
That's the case in Morgan County, too.
"We're out," Karen Butler, Nurse Manager for the Morgan County Health Department, said. "We've had a lot of requests for the vaccine but we don't have any and won't be getting any more in."
Doctors offices and pharmacies in Hartselle also said they were out of the vaccine and were reporting a higher than average number of patients complaining of flu-like symptoms.
The three leading makers of the flu shot said they have shipped some 83.4 million doses of the vaccine and, because the process takes four months, additional medication won't be available in time to help with this outbreak.
The normal flu season usually peaks in January and February. This outbreak began in November, making it one of the earliest in 25 years.
"This outbreak is much earlier than usual and it may mean that the flu season will be more severe than average," Dr. Donald Williamson, State Health Officer, said.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, this year's outbreak is being linked to the a particularly dangerous subtype of influenza A. This type of influenza is most likely to cause complications, including death, in high-risk groups.
Influenza is caused by an airborne virus and, according to the health department, effects about 20 percent of the population annually.
Symptoms include fever, often in the 102 to 104 degrees range; headaches, body aches; sore throat; stuffy nose; and coughing.
Symptoms can last anywhere from two to seven days but the cough can linger for weeks. High-risk groups, including the elderly, those with long-term illnesses and pregnant women in their second or third trimester, experience the most complications associated with the flu.
In a severe year, 720 Alabamians die as a result of the flu and more than 2,000 are hospitalized because of the virus.