Recently, East Alabama Medical Center has reported a spike in the amount of influenza cases, having counted about 80 since November.
"Over the last couple of weeks, we've seen a sharp increase in the number of cases, with the majority of them being (patients) under the age of 18," said Brooke Bailey, director of infection prevention and employee health at EAMC. "The state of Alabama as a whole is seeing widespread flu at this time."
Alabama is one of 15 states reporting widespread cases of the flu. This week, EAMC implemented visitor restrictions to its third floor, which includes the hospital's Childbirth Unit, OB Observation, Mother/Baby Unit, Nursery and Pediatrics. The restrictions prevent children ages 11 and younger from visiting the third floor until further notice.
"For newborn infants, they do not have the ability to be vaccinated. Children cannot be vaccinated until they are 6 months old, and because the majority of the flu (cases) we are seeing are in the young, we have decided to go ahead and implement that for the third floor," Bailey said. "That's not something unusual. We do that almost every year. A lot of times, when the flu hits and gets worse, we limit visitation throughout the whole hospital in regards to children under a certain age. We will just wait until we see it circulate, and when it starts getting high, we make the decision to institute that."
Flu season typically begins in October and lasts through March. EAMC and local pharmacies begin encouraging people to get vaccinated Oct. 1, and Bailey said it is not too late to get your flu shot.
Which strains of influenza the shot contains can change from year to year, based off which were the most widely circulated the year before. There are three types of flu shots — trivalent, quadravalent and high-dose. The trivalent protects against two A viruses and one B. The quadravalent protects against two As and two Bs, and the high-dose vaccine is just a shot with higher dosages and is used for seniors ages 65 or older, who are considered high-risk alongside children under the age of 2 and individuals with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and asthma. According to the Centers for Disease Control, no trivalent flu shots will be available this season, so most individuals will receive the quadravalent shot.
Bailey also strongly encouraged pregnant women to get the flu shot.
"The flu vaccine is not 100-percent effective, but it is the most proven way to decrease severe complications from the flu," Bailey said. "Getting the flu shot is really the number one thing you can do to help protect yourself and others."
After you get the shot, it takes about two weeks for your body to build up the antibodies.
If you do happen to get the flu this season, symptoms will begin to reveal themselves about one to four days after the virus enters your body. If you are sick, Bailey recommended staying away from others in an effort to prevent the infection spreading.
Aside from the flu shot, Bailey said there are good hygiene habits that can help keep you healthy.
"Cover your cough; wash your hands, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth — the triangle of your face," she said.
EAMC also recommends not eating or drinking after anyone. For more information about the 2019-20 flu season, visit cdc.gov/flu/season.