The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting an increase in influenza activity in most areas of the United States, and the Florida Department of Health says a similar trend is occurring around the state, including in Pinellas County.
“Pinellas hospitals are reporting a 40 percent increase in influenza-like illnesses already and it’s only January,” Maggie Hall, spokesperson for the Pinellas County Health Department, said in a Jan. 10 email.
The CDC reported widespread activity in nearly every state in a report for the week ending Jan. 5. The biggest increases were in the eastern half of the country, including Florida.
The Panhandle, Central and South Florida regions were showing “higher than expected” numbers of emergency room visits due to flu-like symptoms. Most counties were reporting mild activity with only 20 counties experiencing moderate activity. Pinellas is on the list of those reporting mild activity.
Hall said Florida’s flu season typically begins in February, so people still have time to get vaccinated, the No. 1 recommended method for prevention of the illness.
“Since the flu shot takes about two weeks to provide immunity, those who haven’t gotten a vaccine yet should do it very soon,” Hall said.
She said vaccinations are available at the county health department, as well as local doctor’s offices and clinics. Visit flu.gov and enter your zip code to find a location in your area.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older get the flu vaccine each year.
As flu activity increases, the state DOH says people should be alert for any symptoms, such as a headache, fever, severe cough, runny nose or body aches. Anyone with symptoms should contact their primary care physician or clinic immediately, especially those at high risk for complications. Antiviral medications can shorten the length and severity of the illness, if started within 48 hours of contracting the flu.
People with the flu should stay home. Get plenty of rest and drink lots of water. Over the counter medications may help with symptoms. Consult a doctor if symptoms are severe or don’t get better.
Flu viruses spread through coughing or sneezing. Germs can pass to others who touch something with flu viruses on it and then touch their mouth or nose. People can spread flu germs before they know they are sick, as well as while they are sick.
People with the flu should stay home until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone. However, not everyone with the flu has a fever, so people with flu-like symptoms but no fever should use caution when in public and be sure to cover coughs and sneezes.
To help prevent becoming ill, residents should wash their hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Avoid close contact with sick people and stay at least three feet away from someone who is coughing or sneezing. Healthy people, as well as those who are sick, should cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the trash after its use.
Anyone can get the flu, even healthy people. The state DOH says that 15 percent to and 40 percent of the U.S. population are likely to develop illness from influenza every year.
Serious problems from influenza can happen at any age; however, people age 65 years and older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions, and very young children are more likely to get complications from influenza.
An average of 36,000 dies from influenza each year, and 114,000 per year get care in a hospital due to an influenza infection.