Health Officials Preach Hand-Washing, Vaccinations for Flu

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama health officials are emphasizing
hand-washing and vaccinations to help stop the spread of two
illnesses this winter: influenza and Shigella a bacterial infection that can cause severe diarrhea.

Shigella cases have been reported in 30 of the state's 67 counties and were first seen in January this year, according to health department records.

The location of flu cases across the country has also made it an unusual year, with the season appearing to start in the Southeast, reversing the usual trend of outbreaks starting in the West and spreading East.

State epidemiologist JP Lofgren says the Shigella outbreak has been the worst in at least a dozen years.

Tuscaloosa County has had the most cases of the year, with 94. Jackson and Montgomery have both had 59 reported cases and Jefferson has had 32.

But those numbers are probably low because officials say there's about 30 more cases for every one that's reported.

Health officials are also urge people to be vaccinated for the flu. There has been a low demand for the vaccine even though Alabama was the first state in the nation to report widespread cases of the disease.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)