MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Despite heavy attention being paid to the COVID-19 pandemic, influenza has not disappeared. The number of cases is growing in Alabama, although not to the severity of seasons in recent years.
Influenza season typically runs from October to May. On Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health said the state is already seeing the illness in three of its eight health districts.
At this time in 2019, the state was well into a significant, widespread flu outbreak across the state. Currently, ADPH deems the flu season as “sporadic,” a level below local outbreaks and two levels below regional outbreaks.
The reduction in flu cases compared to previous years is being attributed, at least in part, to residents’ attempts to prevent spread of COVID-19 with use of masks, staying in doors and social distancing.
ADPH said while the flu is not a reportable disease in Alabama, deaths associated with it are. And it’s keeping track of the illness, just like it’s doing with the spread of COVID-19. So far, one death has been reported for the season.
Health department officials are conducting surveillance and testing for influenza at its state lab to determine which strains of the illness are circulating. So far, the state is seeing cases of Influenza A and B in three districts, which can be seen on ADPH’s Influenza Surveillance Map.
Flu cases have been found in the Jefferson, West Central and Northeastern districts of Alabama, so far, but not on a statewide level at this point.
ADPH is using ILINet, short for the Outpatient Influenza-Like Illness Surveillance Network, to look for flu-like illnesses that are reported by outpatient providers. Those include symptoms of fever and coughing with possible sore throat.
It’s also using a process known as Syndromatic Surveillance, which gives ADPH the ability to look at COVID-19-like illness trends up against flu-like illness trends.
“People have to realize the importance of flu vaccine, they have to realize the importance of going and seeing their primary care doctors and getting tested for flu as well as COVID-19 If they have symptoms, and especially the respiratory symptoms,” said Dr. Vikas Gupta with Baptist Health during a recent interview. “It’s very difficult to clinically distinguish between the COVID-19 symptoms and the flu symptoms. "
ADPH continues to urge residents to get a flu vaccine.