Is Florida next hot spot in nationwide flu epidemic?

Hospitals see increase in flu patients; CDC issues warnings

By Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Local hospitals are being hit hard with flu patients as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 46 states are experiencing moderate to high rates of flu-like sickness.

The CDC warned via Twitter that Americans should not ignore flu symptoms, which include fever, chills, cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, headache, body aches, and fatigue.

A spokesman for St. Vincent’s said the hospital group has seen an increase in flu patients at its three area emergency rooms within the last month, and they are encouraging anyone who is sick with the flu to instead visit their primary care physician or an urgent care facility. They can also set up a virtual care appointment at www.getjaxhealthcare.com.

Orange Park Medical Center has increased its staff in the emergency room and is asking people to wear medical masks while they're there because so many people are coming in with the flu. 

St. Vincent's is taking similar precautions for visitors.

The CDC said this flu season is an epidemic hitting the country hardest in the Deep South, Midwest and West Coast. Florida is currently at a lower flu activity level than those areas.

Dr. Steven Goodfriend, with OPMC Emergency Department, said even those who get the flu shot can still get sick.

“If someone gets the flu shot, it's not 100 percent protective,” Goodfriend said. “In general, it will protect from many of the flus, but sometimes the vaccine doesn’t match up with the strain that we see that year.”

But you can protect yourself by avoiding sick people, coughing into your arm (and not your hands) and washing your hands regularly.

Kelly Hollis, a Jacksonville mother of four, told News4Jax that her family was stunned when one of her children passed out from the flu.

“Our son was standing at the door, and he literally just fell over, passed out,” Hollis said. “Not like falling down, crumpling, he straight just fell, and my husband caught him before he hit the ground, and he was out for three to five seconds.”

Hollis said she and her husband quickly got fluids into their son, and he's now recovering from the flu.

School districts across North Florida are asking that children who are suffering from the flu stay home. To prevent the spread of flu, the districts encourage flu shots and handwashing.

In St. Johns County, the district's custodial staff is also increasing the amount of time spent disinfecting common areas at schools, like light switches, doorknobs and water fountains.

Duval County Public Schools also have a “Teach Flu a Lesson” student vaccination program that offers free voluntary flu vaccinations at DCPS schools for students, their families and DCPS staff.

More information about the Teach Flu a Lesson program is available on the DCPS website within the School Health Services section.

Doctors said it's important for adults who are sick to stay home as well. Otherwise, they risk spreading the flu to co-workers, who could then give it right back again.

The CDC estimates that since 2010, the flu has resulted in 9.2 million to 35.6 million illnesses, from 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations and from 12,000 to 56,000 deaths annually.

Florida specific information on the flu can be found at http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/influenza/index.html

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