Seven people have been admitted to area hospitals, and two of them have died, in what health officials described Tuesday as a “cluster” of respiratory illnesses with flulike symptoms.
Peggy Blakeney, the area administrator for the state Department of Public Health, said officials with the state Department of Public Health in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control are investigating a “cluster” of respiratory illnesses across southeast Alabama.
Blakeney said so far, through their ongoing investigation, they know of seven people hospitalized for treatment. She said two of those people have died.
Corey Kirkland, the assistant administrator for the area, said those two deaths occurred on Saturday and Sunday.
Peggy Williams, a state Department of Health investigator, said of the five people who remained hospitalized Tuesday, one was in an intensive care unit at a local hospital.
The Houston County Health Department held a press conference Tuesday morning to release some details of their ongoing investigation into the unknown illness.
“They’re flu-like symptoms,” Williams said.
Lesa C. Smith, a registered nurse with the state Department of Public Health, said the three symptoms to watch for include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
Smith also said they don’t have a general common denominator among the seven people admitted to the hospital. She said they’ve had several young people and an elderly person among the cases, so it’s been difficult to determine who might specifically be at risk.
Smith also said the time frame for the respiratory illness ranged from April 19 to Monday.
Blakeney said their office was first notified about the respiratory illnesses last Thursday.
Blakeney also said all seven of the people admitted to local hospitals are from their eight-county service area, which includes Barbour, Coffee, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike County.
Smith said they’re still checking to see if any of the seven people have any links to each other. She said they’re also still looking at who those seven people have recently come into contact with.
Smith also said no other similar “clusters” of respiratory illness have been discovered across the state.
Blakeney said whether an area resident seeks the advice of their local physician or the local hospital may depend on the severity of their symptoms.
“Of course this is early in our investigation. We don’t have any information that says this is a contagious illness. I’m not saying it isn’t,” Blakeney said. “Thus far we have not had any family members present any signs or symptoms.”
Kirkland suggested people follow their typical health and safety tips for flu-like illnesses such as regular hand washing, covering your mouth when coughing and if you’re feeling sick certainly stay home to prevent the possible spread of any illness.
The Alabama Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control have recommended hospitals use precautions, including having staff use protective masks.