MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A severe flu outbreak is filling Alabama hospitals and emergency rooms, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency.
"We have a crisis situation going on with numbers of patients infected by influenza in Alabama," Acting State Health Officer Scott Harris said in a Friday press conference. "We are seeing very large numbers, and that's particularly been true for the last two to three weeks."
Harris said hospitals in nearly half of Alabama counties are at 90 percent of their patient capacity. Some are full or overcapacity.
"They have more patients who are admitted to those hospitals than they have beds in those hospitals. They have patients who are waiting for rooms," Harris said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that flu is now widespread in every state except Hawaii. Alabama is one of 26 states reporting high levels of influenza-like Illness.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday issued a state of emergency, giving hospitals some leeway in following their care plans as they deal with the large influx of patients. For example, Harris said a hospital might opt for oral hydration instead of intravenous fluids.
To ease the burden on crowded emergency rooms, health officials urged people without severe symptoms to try other avenues to get care, such as primary care doctors, urgent care facilities or even calling their doctor's office to see if they can be triaged by phone.
Jeff Rains, CEO of Baptist Medical Center East in Montgomery said some hospitals across the state are altering visiting policies to try to slow the spread of the illness, and protect medically vulnerable patients.
A large private school in metro Birmingham, Briarwood Christian, canceled classes on Friday because of a large number of sick students and employees.
"Just remember, the best way to prevent influenza is to get a vaccine. Be sure to wash your hands, particularly if you are sick yourself," Harris said.