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Flu makes early showing in some parts of Florida

By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published December 12, 2006


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In Florida, the height of the flu season normally hits after the first of the year, but current reports show an unusual amount of early flu activity in the state this year.

Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi are seeing more flu activity than other states, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials can't estimate how many Floridians have the flu, but they say the number of influenza cases in the state puts it in a category known as "regional," which falls in between local and widespread flu cases.

Regional means more than one region of the state is reporting more flulike cases than usual.

"Compared to previous years, it's a little more activity than we've seen in the past at this time of year," said Florida Department of Health spokesman Fernando Senra.

Still it's no reason to panic, health officials stressed. There are no outbreaks, and the number of cases reported remains low overall, said Beata Casanas, medical director for the Hillsborough County Health Department.

Flu or flulike illnesses are responsible for 2 percent of all doctor's visits in most states right now. In Florida, they account for 4 percent, according to a state flu survey last week.

Typically, flu season in Florida runs from late December through February.

No one knows why the flu has arrived sooner than usual, but it is hitting mostly the northern and southern parts of the state, said Jeannine Mallory, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Health Department.

The Tampa Bay area isn't seeing the same activity; Hillsborough County reported only two confirmed cases this week. But health officials continued to call for residents to get vaccinated against the flu.

Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

[Last modified December 12, 2006, 00:46:21]


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