Emergency rooms, pharmacies become front line in battle against flu outbreak

Pharmacies in central Alabama say this could become the most severe flu outbreak since the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. (Stephen Quinn |

A severe flu outbreak has spread across central Alabama placing local pharmacies and emergency rooms squarely on the front lines of battling the virus.

On Thursday, the Alabama Department of Public announced a public health emergency across the state. UAB Hospital postponed elective outpatient surgeries due to a surge in flu cases flooding their hospital.

In Birmingham, pharmacists say this could become the worst outbreak they've experienced since the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. The virus in many suburbs appears to spread one home at a time. "Unfortunately most cases end up with one family member getting it and the other family members end up getting it as well," said Homewood Pharmacy owner, Ryan Hamilton.

Hamilton's store has been able to keep up for now with demand for the popular antiviral medication, Tamiflu. Other pharmacies had to work even harder to keep the drug on their shelves. "We've had to take some extraordinary steps. We've had actually drove down to the wholesaler to get some medication because we ran out or we're on the verge of running out," said Cahaba Pharmacy's Jim Parekh.

Staff in the emergency rooms of local hospitals are working around the clock to keep up with patients pouring in. Some come from outpatient facilities unable to keep up with their own demand, others come from home. Grandview Medical Center's Dr. Stephen Bobo estimates in the last five days he alone has seen 100 flu patients. "It's a little chaotic but we do the best that we can."

The majority of patients who come to the hospital are sent back home said Bobo. Elderly patients and those with previous medications are the most likely to be admitted to the hospital.

Lynn Sampson Stevens brought her daughter to the hospital Thursday with flu-like symptoms. With masks on they left the hospital after her daughter was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection. Stevens' husband is also battling cancer. "I just knew I had to protect my husband who is terribly ill and one case of the flu could take him out as it could any older person. Especially a person with a compromised immune system."

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