Alabama flu outbreak creating 'crisis situation': State health officer
January 12, 2018
By Howard Koplowitz

Alabama has experienced an influx of flu cases over the last several weeks, creating a "crisis situation" where hospitals in seven of the state's eight health districts are at 90 percent capacity, the state's acting chief health officer said Friday.

Dr. Scott Harris said the cases are "normal season flu" and that nothing is out of the ordinary, but there has been a spike in cases over the last two to three weeks, he told a press conference in Montgomery.

"All of this led yesterday to Gov. Kay Ivey ... declaring a public health emergency in the state," Harris said. He said there were no reports of deaths from the outbreak, although he noted that the department doesn't usually track adult deaths due to the flu.

The state of emergency helps raise public awareness and gives hospitals more flexibility to treat patients, according to Harris. For instance, a hospital may normally treat a flu patient with IV fluids but may opt to use oral hydration to more efficiently treat the patient.

Meanwhile, Harris urged those with symptoms to either contact their primary care doctor or an urgent care clinic instead of putting a burden on emergency rooms.  

"We encourage you to stay home if possible' and don't go to the emergency room unless it's an emergency," he said.

Jeff Raines of the Alabama Hospital Association agreed, saying that primary or urgent care "is probably a better first resort than defaulting to the emergency department."

Raines said some hospitals have restricted patients to one visitor at a time in wake of the flu outbreak, and that in some cases even young children have been barred from seeing patients.

"This is not to try to be restrictive," he said. "This is just an out of the ordinary situation that is important for hospitals to manage the spread of the flu and to protect our patients that come to our facilities."