Health officials probe deadly respiratory illness in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama Wed May 22, 2013 5:49pm EDT

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - U.S. and state health authorities are investigating an unidentified respiratory illness that has killed two of 10 people hospitalized with it in Alabama since last week.

Preliminary tests do not indicate the bird flu, nor a new mutation of any known influenza virus, said Dr. Mary McIntyre, an assistant state health officer at the Alabama Department of Public Health. Two patients did test positive for the H1N1 strain of the flu.

Bacteria such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) remains a possibility, especially as a secondary infection, McIntyre said on Wednesday. However, one patient tested for MRSA by a physician had negative results.

"At this point, it could be anything. We are testing for everything," McIntyre said.

State health officials believe it is unlikely the patients are suffering from the new coronavirus that surfaced in the Middle East last year, because none had traveled, she said.

Laboratory samples were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for evaluation, and the agency is expected to issue a report within 24 hours, she said.

Those hospitalized with the illness had symptoms of fever, coughing, pneumonia and shortness of breath, health officials said.

The first checked into a hospital last week, and the most recent patients were hospitalized on Wednesday. One person has been released, one is improving and the others are still suffering from their initial symptoms, according to McIntyre.

The patients range in age from the 20s to late 80s and all lived in the Dothan, Alabama, area, but they were spread out around the community with no epidemiological link, McIntyre said.

"Right now, we are not finding a connection...such as a place of work, a restaurant where they all ate, or a meeting they all attended," she said.

People with similar symptoms are encouraged to stay home and call their physician, health officials said.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (3)
Dragon5126 wrote:
Look to legionnaires disease the symptoms are correct, and the area is one that uses swampwater air conditioners a prime breeding ground for the causative Legionella bacterium .

May 23, 2013 6:27am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Pandemic wrote:
These cases do bear the hallmarks of a new virus – rapid progression in young people with healthy immune systems reminiscent of the ‘cytokine storm’ seen in the Great’Flu of 1918. Last October the Saudi SARS virus was in Saudi when 2 million pilgrims converged for the annual Hajj – then unbeknownst went home across the globe. The monitoring team sent out at that time was lead by Ian Lipkin of Columbia but no report was ever published online and no word of any autopsies even on the young fit Egyptian Pilgims who died suddenly (about two dozen of them) of a ‘respiratory’ illness. It seems all were simply buried within 24hrs according to custom.
Now when they returned home America was totally distracted by Hurricane Sandy and no screening was done; the virus might have been carried in and have been quietly mutating for the past six months. Worth testing for!
Hopefully we did duck that bullet but another Hajj is due and anyone who insists on attending (Muslims have to go at least once during their lifetimes) must be quarantined on their return surely?

May 23, 2013 11:47am EDT  --  Report as abuse
linus1 wrote:
I have respitory problems and have been in remission for awhile and three days ago I ate some strawberries and I came down with a severe cough and wheezing and tightness in my chest like I was having an asthma attack. I had strawberries on two separate days. I have never been allergic to strawberries before, so why all of a sudden I had the chest problem with my breathing. It has been two days since I ate the strawberries and my chest feels almost normal with normal breathing.
Could there be something relating to the strawberries.


May 24, 2013 4:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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