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Alabama mystery illness determined to be flu, cold or pneumonia

Seven Alabama residents sickened by a mysterious illness this month that resulted in two deaths actually had cases of the flu, a cold virus or pneumonia, state health officials announced Thursday.

State and local authorities had been conducting laboratory tests from samples taken from the seven patients in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The lab samples revealed a combination of influenza A, rhinovirus (the virus associated with the common cold), and bacterial pneumonia.

The news assuaged fears that the illnesses were caused by viruses that are behind recent overseas outbreaks.

"This is good news," state health officer Dr. Don Williamson said in a press release. "Testing has ruled out avian flu and novel coronavirus."

A bird flu outbreak has sickened at least 131 people this year, mostly in China, and resulted in 26 deaths. Forty-four patients in the Middle East and Europe have been infected with a deadly respiratory infection since September 2012 that is a new type of coronavirus, a family of viruses that range from the common cold to deadly SARS. Twenty-two people have died, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

All seven Alabama patients were tested and six of the samples came back positive for either influenza A, rhinovirus or a combination of the two. Three patients were found to have bacterial pneumonia.

On Wednesday, the state health department had asked doctors to report cases of severe respiratory symptoms and take other precautions like wearing masks.

Department spokesperson Dr. Mary McIntyre, assistant state health officer for disease control and prevention, said Thursday that after determining the cause of the infections, the enhanced surveillance has been called off.

"While enhanced surveillance associated with this cluster is no longer necessary, health care providers are encouraged to continue routine year-round influenza surveillance activities and submit specimens to the state laboratory for testing," she said.

The health department also used the news to remind people to take extra precautions if you or family members are sick with a cough, shortness of breath and fever.

In addition to contacting your doctor, washing your hands with soap and water, covering your cough or sneeze with a sleeve or tissue, avoiding touching your mouth, eyes and nose, and limiting contact with others are all recommended when sick with a respiratory infection.