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Mysterious Disease Infects 7, Kills 2 in Alabama

May 22, 2013 03:46 PM EDT

A mysterious respiratory disease with flu-like symptoms has killed two and sickened five others in Alabama, prompting local doctors to coordinate with state and federal health centers to better understand the disease. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and the Houston County Health Department, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control, are investigating the illness, the symptoms of which include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

According to the ADPH, laboratory samples have been obtained from patients, and while testing continues at both ADPH Bureau of Clinical Laboratories and CDC’s Respiratory Laboratory, the scientists report that they have yet to identify the illness.

However, according to Mary McIntyre, an assistant state health officer for disease control and prevention, two of the seven patients tested positive for the flu – one for H1N1 and the other for influenza A.

Meanwhile, both have recommended the use of respiratory precautions, including the wearing of masks by all staff caring for the patients with respiratory symptoms.

Furthermore, the ADPH asks that anyone in the area who exhibits symptoms like those related to the mysterious disease, that they contact their health care provider immediately.

In a press conference Tuesday, Houston County Health Department officials said the illnesses date back as far as April and as recently as Monday and that all come from a 10-county area of Southeast Alabama, according to the Troy Messenger

Furthermore, of the five that are still alive, all are still hospitalized, including one in intensive care.

Regarding what counties had been affected, the officials simply said they did not have “any details about that.”

McIntyre further stressed that despite being the off-season in terms of the flu, outbreaks of the disease are still possible. For this reason, she stressed that health officials are “trying to get people to understand if they are symptomatic to do what they would do if they had the known flu.”

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