Officials: Ala. 'mystery illness' situation solved - | WBTV Charlotte

Officials: Ala. 'mystery illness' situation solved

Alabama Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson Alabama Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson

After several days of worries that Alabama could be dealing with the outbreak of a potentially new illness, the Alabama Department of Public Health is confident they've solved the mystery.

In a news conference held Thursday, Alabama Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson said ADPH and the Houston County Health Department have determined that the cause of a respiratory illness cluster in southeast Alabama was a combination of influenza A, rhinovirus, the virus associated with the common cold, and bacterial pneumonia.

According to Williamson, there is no evidence of anything unusual in the flu viruses of the patients.  All viruses have been identified. He described the situation as, "a clustering of cases with reasonable explanations."

"While enhanced surveillance associated with this cluster is no longer necessary, health care providers are encouraged to continue routine year-round influenza surveillance activities and submit specimens to the state laboratory for testing," Dr. Mary McIntyre, assistant state health officer for disease control and prevention, advised.

Patients affected ranged in age from 32 to 87 years old.  The ages of the two who died were 34 and 55 years old.

Of the seven patients whose specimens were submitted, six were found to be positive for either influenza A, rhinovirus or a combination of the two, and three patients were found to have bacterial pneumonia. Two of the seven patients eventually died. 

"This actually represents the way the system is supposed to work, in that you had a very alert physician who had a very unusual and unexpected outcome," Dr. Williamson said. "He then reported that and helped us identify other patients."


Doctors in the River Region said they do see cases of influenza, rhinovirus and bacterial pneumonia during the warmer months.

"One of the complications that we see is people not feeling like they can get the flu, during the Summer so they don't come in when they have a fever of 101, even 102," said Dr. Donald Probst, with AllMed Physicians in Prattville. "If you're running a fever, if you're short of breath, if you have chest pains when you cough or if you take a deep breath, if you feel fatigue. Any of those things should take you to the doctor any time of the year."

If you or your family members have respiratory symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, please contact your health care provider to be evaluated. In addition, everyone should take steps to prevent transmission of disease and are reminded to follow these precautions:

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a sleeve or tissue.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective.

  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose with your hands. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

  • If you get sick, stay home and limit contact with others to avoid infecting them.

INFORMATION SOURCE: Alabama Dept. of Public Health

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