The flu is rampaging across the nation, causing epidemics in nearly every state. But so far most counties in Florida are reporting a mild level of activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the Florida Department of Health.
However, the level of flu activity is increasing in 21 Florida counties, according to the state department of health.
Dr. Nelly Durr Chambers, an internist with Florida Hospital Physician Group, said she has noticed Florida residents tend to get the flu later than residents in some other states.
“What I’ve seen in years prior is that the flu will hit November, December up north, and it will hit us January, February, March down here,” Chambers said.
The CDC recommends a flu shot for anyone older than six months as the most effective way to prevent the flu. And Chambers agrees.
“I really do think that getting the vaccine is very important,” she said. “Everybody should consider getting the flu vaccine, but especially if you’re in those risk categories — whether you’re young or very old, or if you’re pregnant, or if you have conditions like asthma, emphysema, if you smoke, if you’re diabetic, if you’re a cancer patient.”
Those patients are at a much higher risk of complications, Chambers said.
“They get sick faster,” she said. “When they get sick, their immune system doesn’t allow them to respond as quickly or as effectively as ours.”
The state department of health is reporting an increased number of pregnant women reporting to emergency rooms for care.
Besides getting the vaccine, people also can reduce their risk of getting the flu by avoiding contact with those who are ill, Chambers said. It’s also a good idea to frequently wash hands to avoid getting sick.
“If you get the flu and you recognize the symptoms in the first 48 hours, going to a doctor is helpful,” Chambers added.
She advises people to be alert to the symptoms.
“A lot of times people have symptoms and they wait three or four days, and by then, the medication that we would use is too late to use,” Chambers said.
Within the first 48 hours, a physician can prescribe medication that would be helpful to shorten the duration of the illness and to reduce the severity of the symptoms, Chambers said. After that, the medication won’t be effective.
There are definite differences between the flu and a common cold, Chambers said.
“The flu comes on, kind of like a truck hits you,” she said. “It’s not mild symptoms that progress into becoming more. You’re fine one minute, and the next hour you’re so achy, you have a fever, you have a headache. You feel awful.”
But a common cold is different.
“You start with a tickle, you start feeling congested,” Chambers said. “Maybe a day or two later, you have more of a cough or a sneeze.”
Besides prescription drugs for the flu, there are over-the-counter medications that can be used for upper respiratory infections, fever and body aches, Chambers said. Some of those medications, however, are not recommended for people with a heart condition or high blood pressure.
Besides medication, it’s also important to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluid, Chambers added.
An average of 36,000 people across the country die each year from influenza, and about 114,000 have to be admitted to the hospital, according to the CDC.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention offers these tips to help reduce the spread of germs.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and when you’re ill, keep your distance from others to avoid spreading your germs.
• If possible, stay home when you’re ill. Do not go to work, school or run errands. This will help prevent others from picking up your illness.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
• Wash your hands often to help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
• Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes. Germs often are spread when someone touches something that is contaminated, and then touches his or her nose, mouth or eyes.
• Clean and disinfect the surfaces at home, work or school that are frequently touched — especially when someone is ill.
Published Feb. 12, 2014