Infectious Strain of Flu Hits Area Hard

Miki Yoshihito, Courtesy of Flickr

This year the flu is peaking early and intensely. It’s one of the most active seasons in decades, and a nasty strain is going around. Area hospitals are at capacity and pharmacies are scrambling to stock medicine. In Jefferson County last week, almost five percent of hospital visits were for flu or flu-like illness. For the same week last year, that was just more than one percent, according to the Jefferson County Department of Health.

“This is probably the busiest we’ve been during the flu season,” UAB medical epidemiologist Bernard Camins says.

The hospital is juggling staff and trying to find space to handle patient overflow.

“You actually use areas in the hospital that are not normally used for inpatient care,” says Camins. “But we still keep them isolated, so we don’t spread it.”

UAB is canceling elective surgeries through Monday, too.

Camins says the current H3N2 flu strain is very infectious. And the recent cold weather drove people inside to crowded spaces, so it spread fast. Plus the latest flu vaccine is not especially effective against this strain. Now area pharmacists are scrambling to stock Tamiflu and other medicines.

But, Camins says, “The good news is that this particular strain is very sensitive to Tamiflu, so it would work.”

That’s if you take it within 48 hours of your first symptoms. Experts also say it’s still worth getting vaccinated because you could be the one out of 10 people for whom it offers protection, or you might get some partial protection. And there could be another flu peak later this season.

Dr. Camins and others say avoid hospitals and urgent care unless you have severe symptoms like trouble breathing. They say if you have typical flu symptoms – aches, cough, sneezing, chills – stay home. Get medical advice if you’re not sure. And as always, wash your hands.