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Health and Medicine

Florida catches flu, but it's a mild case

There is plenty of coughing, but the vaccine shortage hasn't created a problem.

Published March 1, 2005

You're coughing, sneezing, hacking.

So is everybody else. Welcome to Florida's flu season. Flu cases in Florida increased last week to "widespread activity," the busiest of five categories tracked by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is the flu season," said John Dunn, a spokesman for Tampa General Hospital. "And it's living up to its billing."

Hospitals and doctor's offices said sick and sniffly patients are keeping them busy. But none reported unusually severe flu symptoms or case numbers that might indicate last fall's shortage of flu vaccine was having a significant effect.

"We're getting reports of increased flu activity, but that's typical for this time of year," said Jeannine Mallory, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Health Department. "It's not an alarming increase."

If anything, this year's flu season has started later than usual, Mallory said.

She and Hillsborough County health officials reminded people it's not too late to get flu shots.

"This is the time of year when it matters," said Cindy Hardy, immunization program manager for the Hillsborough County Health Department.

Florida's flu season usually runs slightly behind the rest of the nation. The Centers for Disease Control now list 33 states with widespread flu activity. It's too soon to say how this year's flu season will stack up to last year's in Florida, said state Health Department spokeswoman Lindsay Hodges.

"We've been fortunate - for the last few years, we've had relatively mild flu seasons," Hodges said. "We've been known to peak as late as April."

At Tampa General, doctors are seeing flu patients with more respiratory symptoms than last year, Dunn said. Last year's patients tended to have more body aches and fevers. This year, "it starts in the head, settles in the lungs, and you have a persistent cough," he said.

In St. Petersburg, doctors are seeing an upswing in flu cases at Bayfront Medical Center, said spokeswoman Nancy Waite.

"But nothing like last year," she said. "Last year there were definitely more flu cases at this same time."

At Doctor's Walk-In Clinics, it's not the flu, but other respiratory infections keeping the staff busy, said Dr. Stephen Dickey, CEO and medical director of the seven Tampa Bay clinics.

Doctors are seeing a lot of winter colds, especially with tourists in town, but also the beginning of spring allergy symptoms, Dickey said.

Dickey said he is already worried about flu season next year.

He's afraid of people's reactions if the panic over this year's flu shot shortage is coupled with a mild flu season.

"I'm just concerned ... that then people are going to think twice about having a flu shot next year," he said.

[Last modified March 1, 2005, 04:48:02]

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