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By Lisa Greene, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008
[James Borchuck | Times]
Tampa Bay is one of the worst places in the state for flu right now, health officials said Thursday.
State health officials upgraded Florida's flu activity level this week to "regional," one step below the highest level, "widespread."
Most of the rest of the country already is seeing widespread activity. Florida tends to run behind other states for flu, but there's no way to know whether flu levels will intensify, said Dr. Richard Hopkins, medical epidemiologist with the state health department.
Here's a look at this year's flu:
I had a flu shot, so I don't need to worry, right?
You could still get the flu, as Dr. John Sinnott, director of the Florida Infectious Disease Institute at the University of South Florida, knows all too well. Sinnott dutifully got his flu shot, but he still got the flu last week.
"What a horrible disease," Sinnott said Thursday.
He's back at work now, but last week his fever went up to 103.5 degrees.
How can that happen?
The shot never provides complete protection from the flu. Usually, it's about 70 to 90 percent effective. But this year, the shot protects against only about 40 percent of the flu virus across the U.S. Because of the time it takes to make flu shots, scientists have to decide almost a year ahead of time what three strains of flu the next year's flu vaccine will protect against. For example, U.S. scientists are deciding next year's vaccine this week. In 16 of the last 19 years, scientists have matched the right strains. But because of the long time lag, sometimes new virus strains emerge, and the vaccine doesn't match. That's what happened this year.
How is Florida affected?
So far, Florida seems better off. The most common strain of flu circulating in Florida is in this year's vaccine, Hopkins said. Tampa Bay and the Panhandle have the most flu cases.
Could I still get a flu shot?
Yes. It takes about two weeks for the shot to become effective, but the flu could still be circulating then. "Things are just getting started up," Sinnott predicted.
In St. Petersburg, three cases of flu have been reported at All Children's Hospital, said Dr. Juan Dumois, infectious disease chairman.
"It seems to be picking up," he said.
Is anything different about this year's flu?
Many cases seem shorter, but more severe, Sinnott said. Health officials also are watching for bacterial infections following the flu, often the most deadly complication of the disease. Last year, Florida had a few cases of flu-associated pneumonia caused by MRSA, a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics. Doctors will be watching for that closely this year. Dumois has advised families where children have had MRSA infections to get flu shots.
I don't feel good. What should I do?
Stop spreading the flu already. "If you're sick with fever and a cough, please stay home," Hopkins said. "Stay home from work, stay home from school, keep your kids home from day care."
Rest and drink fluids. Don't take aspirin without your doctor's approval. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicines. These are most effective if you take them early, so contact your doctor at the first sign of symptoms.
Go to www.cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm for more information on treatment, including a list of emergency warning signs to seek medical treatment.
Is it really the flu?
Symptoms of the flu include: high fever, headache, cough, extreme fatigue, body aches, and sometimes sore throat and a runny nose. Sometimes the flu causes diarrhea and vomiting, but more often in children than adults.
Who's most at risk from complications of the flu?
People 65 and older, young children, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma or heart disease.
Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Associated Press was used in this report. Lisa Greene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3322.
[Last modified February 21, 2008, 23:57:17]