With flu cases surging, UAB Infectious Diseases physician urges public to get vaccinated to protect themselves and community

The Alabama Department of Public Health shows widespread flu activity in all areas of the state. UAB’s Rachael Lee, M.D., urges the public to enact preventive measures to slow the spread of flu, and to ease the burden on health care systems.

Stream flu surge fallOver the past week, daily inpatient capacity challenges in UAB HospitalUAB Highlands, and hospitals throughout the city of Birmingham and state of Alabama have dramatically increased due to an elevated volume in seasonal flu cases.

UAB Health Care epidemiologist Rachael Lee, M.D., urges residents with minor flu or flu-like symptoms to refrain from going to hospital emergency departments to avoid continued overstressing of the community’s resources.

Mild cases of the flu usually do not require a hospital visit. 

If you are experiencing flu symptoms — fever or feeling feverish or experiencing chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue — call your primary health care provider or utilize UAB eMedicine to engage with a caregiver who can assess your condition and needs without an emergency room or clinic visit.

Patients who choose to visit an emergency department or outpatient clinic should be aware of long wait times. All local hospitals are taking necessary steps to ensure patients receive appropriate care. This issue is occurring nationwide, not just in the Birmingham area.

Individuals with even mild flu-like symptoms are also encouraged to stay home from work, school or other gatherings.

Lee says flu prevention should be the focus for the public.

“The most important thing for people who are already sick or for those to whom the flu may be life-threatening is prevention — avoiding anyone who is sick, if it is possible,” Lee said. “This includes avoiding public areas where they could get infected, staying away from family or friends who may be sick, and not allowing sick individuals into their homes. They also need to practice proactive and frequent hand hygiene. Prevention is the key.”

What is the flu?

Influenza, also known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. 

People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than in adults

People who are at high risk for developing flu-related complications are:

  • Young children (younger than 5, but especially younger than 2 years old)
  • Adults 65 years of age or older
  • Pregnant women
  • People with medical conditions such as a weakened immune system, asthma, heart disease and diabetes
  • Residents of long-term-care facilities

There are ways you can protect yourself, family and friends:

  • Get the flu vaccine if you are 6 months of age or older
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Wash your hands
  • Clean living and working areas
  • Avoid crowds
  • Stay home from work or school if you are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth