Fears of a Southern Virus Soothed

Alabama cluster of illness determined not to be new virus

(RxWiki News) The H7N9 bird flu strain in China and novel coronavirus in the Middle East have both been making headlines and putting health officials worldwide on alert for strange symptoms or outbreaks of disease.

So when an apparent cluster of an unknown respiratory illness developed in Southeastern Alabama, concerns grew that a new outbreak could be at hand.

However, the cause of the outbreak has been determined, easing worries that a new virus had developed or that bird flu or novel coronavirus had reached US soil.

"Stay home if you're sick."

According to a release from the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), the illness was determined to be a mix of influenza A, rhinovirus (which causes the common cold) and bacterial pneumonia.

“This is good news. Testing has ruled out avian flu and novel coronavirus,” State Health Officer Don Williamson, MD, said in the release.

Concerns developed when seven patients (two of whom later died) were hospitalized with symptoms of respiratory illness, like difficulties breathing, coughing and fever. Doctors were unable to determine the cause.

According to the ADPH, officials investigated the cluster through both interviews with the patients' families and the laboratory examination of samples from the patients. 

The Montgomery Advertiser reported that three of the patients had bacterial pneumonia and six had influenza A, rhinovirus, or a combination of both. It was also determined that the patients had no connections with each other before becoming ill.

In a press conference, Dr. Williamson said, "There weren’t any new agents. There weren’t any connections between the patients. There was just a cluster of respiratory illness.”

The ADPH encouraged the medical community to always remain vigilant when handling respiratory illness. 

“While enhanced surveillance associated with this cluster is no longer necessary, health care providers are encouraged to continue routine year-round influenza surveillance activities and submit specimens to the state laboratory for testing,” said Mary McIntyre, MD, MPH, Assistant State Health Officer for Disease Control and Prevention, in the ADPH release.  

The ADPH also urged the public to seek medical care when experiencing respiratory symptoms and to practice habits like washing hands often to help prevent the spread of viruses.

Review Date: 
May 26, 2013