Alabama mystery illness solved: it's common flu

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 23, 2013 at 4:36 pm •  Published: May 23, 2013
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Health officials investigating a cluster of mysterious illnesses in Alabama closed their investigation Thursday after determining the illnesses were unrelated and no new bacteria or viruses were involved.

The investigation involved 10 people who became sick and were admitted to hospitals in Dothan and Luverne in southeast Alabama. Two died, six remained hospitalized Thursday, and two had been released, state Health Officer Don Williamson said. The 10 range in age from 24 to 87.

Williamson said health officials took extraordinary caution due to the emergence of two viruses, including the new H7NP, in other countries. Southeast Alabama is home to a military base and several aircraft plants that have frequent international travel.

"We looked extremely hard. This represents the way the system is supposed to work," Williamson said. Testing at a state lab and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed different groups of pathogens were present. Four of the patients had a rhinovirus, the same family of germs that causes the common cold. Three had bacterial-based pneumonias and others had influenza A and H1N1.

Although it was not known whether the sufferers had gotten flu shots, the types of illnesses that were contracted were covered by this year's vaccine.

Williamson said the flu pandemic of 2008-09 showed that flu cases are present in Alabama throughout the year. It is uncommon, but not unheard of, for small outbreaks to occur in the spring and summer, he said.

Mysterious illnesses are always unnerving, but the cluster report came at a particularly sensitive time. Health officials have been monitoring two deadly new illnesses that recently surfaced in different parts of the world — one a deadly form of bird flu that has appeared in China, the other a SARS-like coronavirus that seems to have originated in the Middle East.