Reality Check: Flu underreported in Mobile County


Some doctors are telling us Mobile is in the middle of the busiest flu season in years, but you wouldn't know it by checking Alabama's Department of Health website. It says there's no significant flu activity reported here, even though the rest of the state and the country are in the height of flu season. NBC 15's Andrea Ramey investigated the gap in the mapping.

Dr. Marty McDonald says he's having the same conversation with patients at least 50 times a day at his west Mobile clinic, Immediate Care of the South.

"We're averaging 50 lab confirmed flu cases a day," said McDonald. "This is the busiest flu season we've had in nine years of being open."

Other doctors NBC 15 News spoke with, say they're seeing the same amount of flu activity at their clinics, too. Yet when you look at the state health department's flu activity map, it shows no significant activity reported in Mobile County.

"When you see that. What do you think?" asked Ramey.

"They've asked the wrong person," replied McDonald.

"People are told to look at this map and being misled a little bit. So what's being done to correct that?" asked Ramey.

"The local health department is working with local providers to input their data into the CDC database," replied Kelly Warren with the Mobile County Health Department.

The state health department says it relies on local doctors to volunteer flu data. Rapid swab tests, widely used by Mobile doctors, aren't accepted results by the state. The state, in light of the lack of reporting, has now asked the Mobile County Health Department to help get more doctors to report data.

Despite what the map shows, McDonald calls this flu season an "epidemic" and urges everyone to get the flu shot. as it helps prevent the flu and lessen flu symptoms.

Receptionist Sydney Arrington, who greets dozens of people with the flu every day, got the shot and still got the flu, but she only missed two days of work.

"I was off Monday and Tuesday and I'm back today," said Arrington. "Not 100% but I feel a lot better."

The Mobile County Health Department told us it's received 650 reports of flu for December and January this year, compared to 350 cases during the same time last year.