• 68°

Flu remains at epidemic levels

Despite the fact that the flu isn't the lead story on most newscasts these days, it's still a very serious situation in the United States Š and in Covington County.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, the number of states reporting widespread influenza activity during the final week of December decreased slightly. However, the CDC reports that the percentage of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness is still increasing.

The CDC also noted that the influenza and pneumonia outbreak has continued to exceed epidemic proportions.

Alabama remains on the CDC's list of widespread states reporting influenza.

In fact, there have been a few confirmed deaths related to the flu in the state. In Covington County, however, there have been no confirmed deaths associated with the influenza virus.

Candie Northey, RN-BSN, the infection control nurse at Andalusia Regional Hospital, says there are precautions that people can take to help avoid the flu, and that the illness can only be detected through testing.

"Influenza is a virus," she said. "It can only be confirmed and diagnosed by a test. The test is quick and painless - it's just a swab in the nose.

"However, there are a lot of colds out there that people could mistake for the flu," she continued.

To help avoid contracting the virus, Northey recommends that people practice good sanitary habits.

"Good hand washing can't be emphasized enough," she said. "Also, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If a temperature or fever is present, students should not go to school, and you should not go to work when you have the flu.

"It is spread through droplets and avoiding contact can help," she said. "Preventative measures are very important."

At Andalusia Regional Hospital, Northey said she wasn't aware of many admissions for the flu in the past few weeks.

"It has dropped off," she said. "I'm not sure if it's because of fewer positive tests, or if there are simply fewer cases out there. We did have quite a bit in December though."