Sick people are showing up in doctor’s offices and emergency rooms seeking treatment for the flu.
Both in Florida and across the United States, flu activity is on the rise, according to Mara Gambineri, communications director for the Florida Department of Health.
“We’re seeing more activity across all age groups this year than we’ve seen in previous seasons at this time, which may be an early indication of a more severe influenza season,” Gambineri said, via email.
Several Pasco County public schools experienced some degree of significant absence related to flu activity in December before break, said Linda Cobbe, the district’s spokeswoman.
The concern was reported to the health department and a generic notice from the health department was sent home to all parents at Bexley Elementary School on Dec. 18 and at Plato Academy on Dec. 6, Cobbe said.
So far, the district hasn’t seen the same trends since returning from the holiday break, however, Cobbe said, the district’s nurse supervisor said this year is predicted to be “quite challenging” from a flu standpoint.
Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, at 2600 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., in Wesley Chapel, has seen an uptick in flu cases.
“The surge that we’ve noticed has been mostly since Christmas, around Dec. 24, Dec. 25,” said Dr. Nadeem Khan, a community physician and the medical director, Infectious Diseases at Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel.
In the first week of 2017, the hospital had eight confirmed cases of the flu. This year, it had 12 cases during the same week last year. The Wesley Chapel hospital also had 16 confirmed cases from Jan. 5 through Jan. 8, which is more than it had seen the entire previous week, according to figures supplied by the hospital.
“A lot of people did not get vaccinated this year. A lot of the patients you talk to, just didn’t do it,” Khan said.
Holiday crowds also likely figured in, Khan said.
During the holidays, people tend to travel, he observed. “You’re in planes. You’re in airports. There’s delays.
“Somebody is sneezing and coughing, and you can’t do anything about it,” he said.
The sudden cold weather likely contributed, too, he said.
“When your immune system goes down a little bit, you’re more susceptible,” he explained.
The flu cases seem to be coming in earlier than usual this year at Saint Joseph’s Hospital-North, 4211 Van Dyke Road, in Lutz, said Cindy McGrath, nursing manager in the hospital’s emergency department.
Both health care professionals said there are ways to reduce your chances of catching the flu, and it’s important to protect yourself.
Aside from getting a flu shot, washing your hands frequently with soap and warm water is perhaps the most important step you can take to protect yourself, Khan said.
“At restaurants, we’re picking up salt and pepper shakers. No one cleans those, ever. We’re touching menus that no one cleans. You need to make sure that you’re washing your hands, or using hand sanitizer,” he said.
He also recommends wearing a mask in crowded places, such as airports, airplanes and other places where you could be risking exposure from being too close to others in tight quarters.
“If you’re not sure what’s going on around you, it’s always better to get a mask.”
“Even if you look funny, or you think people are going to stare at you, who cares?” Khan asked.
Those who are most vulnerable to the flu include the very young and the elderly, according to the Florida Department of Health’s website. Pregnant women also are at risk.
People who have underlying medical conditions also are more susceptible to catching the flu, McGrath said.
Once flu symptoms begin to show up, it’s a good idea to see a health care provider for antiviral medication, both McGrath and Khan said. The sooner, the better, they said.
State and federal health officials still recommend getting a flu shot, even though it may not always prevent the flu.
“Flu vaccines can vary in effectiveness from season to season, but they continue to be the best way to prevent influenza infection and serious influenza complications,” said Gambineri, of the state health department.
“You might get sick even if you’ve had the flu shot, but not sick enough to be in the hospital or the ICU (intensive care unit),” he said.
Catching the flu can have serious consequences, Khan said.
“We definitely lose patients from influenza. That is something that people don’t understand. Young, healthy individuals, 23 to 30 years old. They die,” he said.
- High-grade fever, generally 101 degrees Fahrenheit or above
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuff nose
- Body aches, chills
- Diarrhea, vomiting
- Breathing difficulties
The infectious period can start 24 hours to 48 hours before symptoms show up.
- Get a flu shot
- Wash your hands often, with soap and warm water, rubbing hands for 15 seconds to 20 seconds, then drying with a clean towel.
- Stay away from people who are sick, and avoid crowded spaces, if possible
- Wear a mask to protect yourself in crowded places, such as airplanes and airports
Avoid spreading the flu
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover sneezes or coughs
- Use a disposable tissue when blowing your nose and discard that tissue immediately
- Wash your hands often, using soap and warm water. Rub your hands for 15 seconds to 20 seconds. Be sure to use a clean towel when drying your hands.
- Do not share glasses, forks, spoons, toothbrushes and so on.
Sources: Dr. Nadeem Khan, Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel; Cindy McGrath, nurse manager for the emergency department and Kim Demers, assistant nurse manager for the emergency department at Saint Joseph’s Hospital — North; and, FloridaHealth.gov.
Published January 17, 2018