Ala. mystery illness cases climb to 10; CDC still investigating

HOUSTON CO., AL (WSFA) - The number of mystery illness cases affecting Alabama is growing. Wednesday, Alabama Department of Public Health spokeswoman Dr. Mary McIntyre confirmed the number rose to ten overnight from a previous report of seven. Two people have died.

"Since we sent out the alert to providers last night, we have had three additional patients/cases," Dr. McIntyre told WSFA 12 News. "These patients all have the same symptoms of cough, shortness of breath and "something" on their chest x-rays," she explained.

Dr. McIntyre says it wasn't immediately known if all the new cases were in southeast Alabama, like the previous seven. But she said at least one person was admitted to Southeast Alabama Medical Center in the last 24 hours.

"We have staff right now in the field trying to get additional information about the other two patients," McIntyre said. No additional information on the three new cases is immediately available.

No additional deaths have been reported beyond the two known deaths. "We are praying we get the preliminary results from the CDC tomorrow (Thursday)," McIntyre said. "They did not come in today."

The mysterious sickness has, so far, been focused on southeast Alabama within an eight-county region. ADPH has been general in its statement about the locations of those affected, but a news conference covered by the Dothan Eagle on Tuesday cited an official who said the first seven patients came from the area including Barbour, Coffee, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike counties.

Doctors are stumped for answers as to what's causing the respiratory illness.

State health department officials say of the initial seven patients, two died, two have been released and three remain hospitalized.

McIntyre said of the initial seven patients that each suffered from fever, cough and shortness of breath and that all of the severe illnesses were accompanied by pneumonia. There may have been more than one contributing factor.

"We are running a multiple panel test that actually looks for viruses and bacteria so we can try to make sure we're not dealing with anything unusual," McIntyre said.

Dr. McIntyre says the two people who died had different, but relatively common, forms of influenza.

Public health officials say they really don't know what they are dealing with and they have no idea if it has spread to other areas. That's why they are in constant contact with the Centers for Disease control, hoping the CDC can figure it out. The CCDC and ADPH are currently investigating the string of illnesses.

Samples have been taken from the patients and will be examined at the ADPH Bureau of Clinical Laboratories and the CDC Respiratory Laboratory.

The state health department says they are trying to find connections to the patients. So far, they have gathered that they are all adults ranging in age from early 20s to late 80s and they were all admitted into the Southeast Alabama Medical Center starting last Thursday.

Officials say one patient tested positive for the H1-NI flu virus and another person tested positive for Type A Flu. Right now health officials are treating the mystery illness like the flu.

So far none of the initial seven affected by the mystery illness appear to be connected to each other and there's no indication that any had recently traveled outside the country.

Health officials don't won't people to panic because again there are lot of unknowns, so health officials really don't know if this is actual outbreak yet. They are asking that providers report any symptoms or unusual complications from their patients.

State health officials sent out alerts to providers Wednesday with more information on the steps to take to report information about this mystery illness.

The ADPH and CDC are recommending that hospitals take respiratory precautions, such as breathing masks, when treating patients with respiratory symptoms.

"Be sure to cover your cough, wash your hands frequently, don't cough on your hands and then shake somebody else's hands, to try to prevent from spreading stuff," Dr. McIntyre said.

If you or your family members have symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath the CDC has asked that you contact your health care provider.

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