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Statewide flu outbreak leads to busy waiting rooms locally

Gov. Kay Ivey declared Alabama to be in a State Public Health Emergency as a result of a widespread flu outbreak on Jan. 11.

In her proclamation, Ivey said that health care facilities and personnel are overwhelmed and care of patients may not be provided in the normal manner or to normal standards. Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital has seen a large increase in patients with the flu or flu-like symptoms.

“It’s mainly impacted our emergency room,” said Cindy Parten, Director of Professional Standards at BWWMH.

Parten, who is in charge of infection control, urged everyone to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching the mouth or nose to help prevent catching the flu. “Hand-washing is the best way to prevent it,” she said.

Those with the flu should try to stay isolated, if possible, and keep their mouths and nose covered to keep from spreading it. They should also disinfect their homes and work areas as much as they can.

Parten said they should keep hydrated and call their primary healthcare provider for medicine, as the hospital’s emergency room is overwhelmed and their primary doctor may call in a prescription for them. Over-the-counter fever-reducing medicine such as Tylenol can also be taken.

“We really just wanted to try to ask people not to come to the ER unless you absolutely have to,” she said.

The hospital is currently limiting visitors in response to the flu outbreak. In the in-patient building, visitors are limited to immediate family members and those with the flu or flu-like symptoms are asked not to enter. In the emergency room, as it is a high-risk area for contracting the flu, visitors are limited to one per patient and those with the flu or flu-like symptoms are asked to wear a mask.

If a patient has a non-emergent appointment or test and they have the flu or flu-like symptoms, it is recommended that they reschedule.

Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, headaches, body aches, fatigue, runny nose or nasal congestion. Vomiting and diarrhea are also symptoms of the flu, though they are more common in children.

Parten said that the elderly and pediatrics are more likely to develop the flu and complications from it, which include pneumonia, dehydration or respiratory distress. According to the Alabama Public Health Department, the flu shot, even this late, will still help. Parten also urged people to get it.

“If you get the flu vaccine, it still helps you not be as sick if you get this kind of flu,” she said.

For more information on how to protect yourself and others from the flu, visit http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, January 17 issue of the Demopolis Times.)