Flu activity is increasing sharply across the state, averaging above the last two years’ peak levels at this time, according to the latest flu report from the state health department.
“After all the weeks of talking about the flu and flu shots, it appears the season has finally started in earnest,” said Dr. Timothy Hendrix, medical director of Florida Hospital Centra Care urgent care centers, in an email.
With nearly 600 flu cases last week, Central Florida’s Centra Care centers reported a 200-percent increase compared with the same time last year and a 400-percent increase compared to 2015.
MedExpress, another urgent care chain, said that its Florida centers are reporting the sixth-highest rate of flu among its centers in 18 states.
“Time spent gathering together over Christmas, followed by recent weather fluctuations that have kept people indoors has given the flu virus its chance to easily spread,” said Dr. Scott Brady, senior medical director and CEO of Centra Care, in a news release.
Overall, flu has reached widespread activity in Florida, and at an earlier time than the past two seasons, state data shows. The current numbers still trail behind the 2014-2015 flu season, which was a severe one.
More flu outbreaks in facilities like nursing homes and schools have also been reported this year. The trend “may be an indication of a more severe influenza season,” according to the Florida Department of Health’s weekly flu report.
One outbreak last week was reported in a Seminole County school, where six people had the flu and one tested positive for RSV, another viral respiratory infection that can be dangerous in young children.
This season’s predominant flu strain — Influenza A(H3N2) — is associated with more hospitalizations and deaths, particularly among the very young and the very old.
Healthy adults may experience a more severe case of flu.
“From the cases I’ve diagnosed, the symptoms are typical for the flu, with high fever and cough, but the fever goes away after 2 to 3 days and they are left with cough and fatigue for up to a week or more,” said Hendrix. “Also, we are seeing more cases of pneumonia, which isn’t much of a surprise since its a bacterial complication of the flu.”
Hendrix said he’s seen a fair share of flu shot failures, based on statements from patients, “but it doesn’t seem to be worse than in previous years,” he said.
The flu vaccine is reportedly 10 to 30 percent effective against the H3 strain this year, so federal health officials are recommending early treatment with antiviral drugs, in addition to vaccination.
The three antiviral drugs that are approved by the FDA for this flu season are oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza) and peramivir (Rapivab), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The drugs are most effective within the first 48 hours of the flu onset.
If health providers suspect the flu, they should err on the side of caution and prescribe antivirals instead of waiting for lab confirmations, according to the state health department.
The agency also advised sick people to stay home until their fever subsides for at least 24 hours, and stressed the importance of hand-washing.
- If you don’t know where to get a flu shot, visit floridahealth.gov/ findaflushot