Flu season has yet to arrive in Alabama, but health officials expect it to hit hard once it does.
As many as 800,000 Alabamians, or 20 percent of the state's population, probably will get the flu this winter beginning in January and February, according to the health department.
For now, a flu-like respiratory virus and an intestinal virus are going around.
"We haven't yet confirmed the influenza virus in the state," Dr. Charles Woernle, the epidemiologist for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said last week.
The agency is monitoring for the flu at 21 locations across the state and will report outbreaks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Monitoring helps researchers determine which strain of virus to inoculate against next year, and it can detect whether another worldwide outbreak, or pandemic, is occurring.
In Alabama last year, several hundred people died from the flu, and 1,130 people died with flu-like illnesses including pneumonia, according to the Department of Public Health. It was the seventh-leading cause of death in Alabama last year.
Nationwide, influenza kills about 20,000 people each winter, officials said.
The flu is accompanied by a fever of at least 100 degrees, coughing, sneezing, a sore throat, a headache and aching muscles and bones not caused by any other underlying conditions.
Flu symptoms can be treated and even prevented with a readily available vaccine. Officials said last week it is not too late to get the vaccine, which takes about two weeks to take effect.
The vaccine is available at many health departments, doctors' offices and freestanding medical clinics and other locations.
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- Much of the illness and death caused by influenza can be prevented by annual influenza vaccination.
- Influenza vaccine is specifically recommended for people who are at high risk for developing serious complications as a result of influenza infection.
- These high-risk groups are:
- All people age 65 and older.
- People of any age with chronic diseases of the heart, lungs or kidneys, diabetes, immunosuppression, or severe forms of anemia.
- Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities housing patients of any age.
- Women who will be more then three months pregnant during influenza season.
- Children and teenagers who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who may therefore be at risk for developing Reye syndrome after an influenza virus infection.
- All people age 65 and older.
- Overall vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year, depending upon the degree of similarity between the influenza virus strains included in the vaccine and the strain or strains that circulate during the influenza season.
- Influenza vaccine produced in the United States cannot cause influenza.
- The only type of influenza vaccine that has been licensed in the United States is made from killed influenza viruses, which cannot cause infection.
When to receive the influenza vaccine
- In the United States, influenza usually occurs from about November until April, with activity peaking between late December and early March.
- The optimal time for vaccination of persons at high risk for influenza-related medical complications is during October through November.
- It takes about 1 to 2 weeks after vaccination for antibody against influenza to develop and provide protection.
Source: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/flu/fluvac.htm ( The Center for Disease Control Vaccine Information Web site)