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Health officials warn state about influenza, Shigella

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama health officials are emphasizing hand washing and vaccinations to help stop the spread of two illnesses this winter: influenza and Shigella, a bacterial infection that can cause severe diarrhea.

Shigella cases have been reported in 30 of the state’s 67 counties and were first seen in January this year, according to health department records.

The location of flu cases across the country has also made it an unusual year, with the season appearing to start in the Southeast, reversing the usual trend of outbreaks starting in the West and spreading East.

State epidemiologist J.P. Lofgren said the Shigella outbreak has been the worst in at least a dozen years.

“It’s just an odd year, it really is,” he said Friday.

Calhoun, Houston, Lee, Macon, Marshall, Pickens and St. Clair counties had the state’s first Shigella cases in January, but Tuscaloosa County has had the most cases of the year, with 94. Jackson and Montgomery have both had 59 reported cases and Jefferson has had 32.

Numbers likely higher

Lofgren said the numbers are very likely much higher — there is an estimated 30 unreported cases for each documented case, he said.

The bacterial infection is easily passed from person to person, but its spread can be stopped with proper hand washing. At best it causes mild diarrhea,

but in severe cases it can result in bloody diarrhea leading

to dehydration, hospitalization and death in rare cases, Lofgren said.

Health officials are also encouraging people to be vaccinated for the flu. There has been a low demand for the vaccine even though Alabama was the first state in the nation to report widespread cases of the disease.

The Montgomery County Health Department has seen fewer people seeking flu shots during its two-week walk-in clinic, said Pat Schloeder, nurse manager for the agency.

“We’ve given about half as many as we usually give in a two-week period,” Schloeder said Friday.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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