MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) -- The Mobile County Health Department has scheduled something new for this year’s parades to help battle the spread of flu. Staff members will be handing out small bottles of hand sanitizers to be presented to the public prior to the start of some parades.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, nearly one in 10 people statewide are currently visiting a doctor for an influenza-like illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate so far this season there have been at least 22 million flu illnesses that have led to 210,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths.
February is traditionally the peak of flu season in Mobile County. Unfortunately, that coincides with many Carnival activities through Fat Tuesday.
The hand sanitizer distribution aims to combat the problem and reduce the spread of illness.
“We will try and attend as many parades as possible until our inventory is expended,” said Dr. Bernard H. Eichold II, Health Officer for Mobile County, for a MCHD news release. “The single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of the influenza virus is to keep your hands clean.”
MCHD reminds parade-goers to remember the area is not only at the height of flu season, but it is also facing an outbreak of Hepatitis A. People are advised to follow these steps while in the midst of large crowds:
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it;
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub;
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way;
• Disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs, such as parade barricades.
Barbara Gibbs, the nurse who oversees the Infectious Disease and Outbreaks division at MCHD, said she has looked at several articles regarding crowds and flu. She said people with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most medical experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
All of MCHD’s Family Health locations offer the flu vaccine. The Urgent Care facility located at the Maj. Gen. William C. Gorgas Health Center in Downtown Mobile at 251 North Bayou Street will offer flu shots during the hours of 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. For a map of Family Health locations, visit FamilyHealthAlabama.org.
MCHD and Family Health facilities will be closed Monday, Feb. 24, and Tuesday, Feb. 25, in observance of Mardi Gras. Urgent Care will be open as normal Saturday, Feb. 22, but WIC (Women, Infants & Children) supplemental nutrition services will be closed that day because of computer upgrades.
If a patient has a scheduled medical visit, the flu shot will be included in their visit and there will not be an additional charge to receive the flu shot on that visit. Patients who do not have a visit with a Family Health provider in the clinic on the same day will pay a nominal administration fee for the flu shot based on their poverty scale: $15 for levels A and B, $16 for levels C and D; $17 for level E; and $18 for levels F and G. There is no out-of-pocket expense with most insurance plans.