Birmingham area hospitals at or over capacity due to flu

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) -- Birmingham area hospitals are at or over normal capacity, mostly because of flu cases, health leaders announced Wednesday.

Health officials with the Jefferson County Department of Health held a news conference to inform the public of what the department is calling a major seasonal flu situation.

“I’ve been in hospital epidemiology for 13 years and this is certainly the busiest we’ve been as a hospital in terms of flu cases,” said Dr. Bernard Camins, a UAB Hospital epidemiologist.

Officials are still urging people over 6 months old to consider getting the flu vaccine, despite concerns that it might be less effective than in years past.

“It can still help protect you against certain strains and it may make even this worse strain less severe,” said Jefferson County Health Department Officer Mark Wilson.

Doctors across the country expect it to be a long flu season. The H3N2 strain appears to be impacting most people, but other strains are being reported.

“It’s not uncommon for us to see a second peak later on, maybe in a month or two, and again that’s another reason why we emphasize getting the vaccine because often times it could be one of the other strains that causes the second peak in cases,” said Dr. Edward Khan, the Medical Director of Disease Control for the Jefferson County Health Department.

Unless there are signs of a serious illness, Jefferson County health leaders ask people with a minor case or flu-like symptoms not to seek care at an emergency room to avoid overcrowding a facility or spreading the contagious virus to others.

Physicians stressed the importance of washing hands and covering your mouth during a cough or sneeze.

The flu typically comes on suddenly and symptoms include fever, aches, chills, cough, sore throat, and fatigue.

Even though area hospitals are taxed, so far patients with serious illnesses haven’t had to go out of the area for help.

Officials said there are plans in place to maximize the use of hospitals.

“You can take rooms that were used for another purpose, you can cancel elective surgeries, you can do early discharges, so there are things that can be done,” said Julie Cobb, in the Emergency Preparedness and Response office of the Jefferson County Health Department.

According to Cobb, Birmingham area hospitals are also dealing with problems from the nationwide IV bag shortage due to the ongoing problems in Puerto Rico from hurricanes.

Patients who are able may be asked to take fluids by mouth rather than an IV bag.

For more information from the Jefferson County Department of Health, click here.

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