The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu season may be reaching its peak in Florida as last week marked the highest number of outbreaks for the illness this cycle.
Collier and Lee Counties were designated as some of the areas with the highest number of outbreaks. Flu activity increased for a third week in a row, making it more active than at the highest peaks of previous seasons. Deaths due to pneumonia and influenza are slightly higher than normal this year. With two confirmed pediatric deaths last week, the total of Florida children who have died of the flu rises to five.
While the flu is often referred to as one disease, it is actually a catch-all term for different strains of disease with a similar root. A (H3) is the dominant strain infecting people this year, but of the pediatric deaths, only one was due to the A (H3) strain. The other four deaths were all from different strains including one from H1N1, more commonly known as swine flu.
With the frequency of new flu cases spiking in Southwest Florida, supplies of the popular prescription treatment Tamiflu have fluctuated. Generic versions of the drug have run out at a number of local pharmacies, and the brand name version can cost as much as $300 for those on certain health plans. Lee Health temporarily banned children under 12 from visiting their hospitals earlier this month.
While flu season may be at its peak, health officials are still urging residents to get vaccinated, especially the elderly or children, who are most likely to succumb to the viruses’ symptoms.
“With flu cases continuing to rise, I urge all families to get vaccinated against influenza,” said Stephanie Vick, Administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Collier County. “Teaching children to cover their coughs and sneezes, to wash their hands properly and often, and to avoid touching their faces can help stop the spread of the influenza virus.”
With stains of the virus being so varied, ramping up hand washing is often the best defense against the flu. The good news in most Americans are doing just that. According to the 2018 Healthy Hand Washing Survey, 61 percent of respondents said they are increasing hand washing to avoid passing on or catching germs. 80 percent increase their sanitizing at home by taking steps like wiping down bathroom surfaces, washing sheets and towels, and cleaning kitchen surfaces.
“Hand washing with warm water and soap is a simple and effective way to reduce the risk of contracting viral infections like the flu or the common cold,” says medical microbiologist Michael P. McCann, Ph.D., professor of biology, Saint Joseph’s University. “Getting the virus on your hands and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth is a common way people become infected so effective hand washing can reduce that risk.”`
60 percent of Americans are extremely or quite concerned about contracting a new or more resilient strain of the flu this year. Southerners are more concerned about contracting the illness than most, with 34 percent saying they are extremely concerned, while the rest of the country were on average 23 percent extremely concerned.
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