JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As Massachusetts public health officials report 18 flu-related deaths in the state already this season and Boston declares a public health emergency, Florida officials are reporting an increase in influenza in the Sunshine State.
The Centers for Disease Control says that flu activity is increasing nationwide and is most elevated in the southern region of the country. Two children in Florida have died of the flu so far this season.
"Some of the other parts of Florida are seeing increasing activity right now -- more than expected," said Karen Elliott of the Duval County Health Department. "But for Duval County, if you compare it to, say, 2010, we're about the same as we were in 2010."
According to the Department of Health, 305 people with flu-like symptoms visited emergency rooms in Jacksonville last week. That was more than double the number from the same week one year ago, but slightly fewer than early January two years ago.
"Practicing doctors are seeing more cases of influenza; emergency rooms are seeing more patients who suspect they have influenza, and so that's something that the volumes of patients that have influenza have gone up," said Dr. Mobeen Rathore, chief of infectious diseases at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center.
Health professionals say it's not too lake to get a flu shot.
"All children more than 6 months of age should get the influenza vaccine," said Rathore. "If they haven't gotten the influenza vaccine, we should go and get it right away."
Demma Teano got her shot, saying "I don't want to get sick."
But protection doesn't stop with the shot, as concerned mother Ryan Rumph knows. She picked a play group for her 2-year-old that has a protocol for separating sick children.
"Any coughing, any signs of sickness, you know, please keep your kids at home," Rumph said. "So I feel very safe with the precautions they have there."
Rumph knows actions each of us takes can also keep the flu at bay.
"Washing hands, you know. Making sure that we're clean when we come in from public places," Rumph said. " I always keep wipes with me, so anytime we're out and we get in the car, before she eats or goes home and plays with toys."
As a result of the flu epidemic, there has been a jump in the demand for flu shots. An early spike in the season has people like Marcus Lynch looking forward to the shot, so he said he can avoid the alternative.
"I go get one every year so I don't end up in the hospital sick with the flu," said Lynch.
Pharmacist BJ Cobb said there are plenty of other things you can do to stay free from the flu.
"By getting the flu shot, you are going to stop the spread of it," said Cobb. "Not only is the shot preventative, but also things like getting enough rest, eating right, drinking water and using hand sanitizer will help protect you from the flu."
If you dislike getting a flu shot, there is a new version for those aged 18-65, where the needle is 90 percent smaller.
At the Singleton Senior Center on the Northside, everyone said they were made aware of the threat of the flu this season.
"A lot of coughing here. I don't know why, but a lot of coughing here.," said Jacquelyn Mayhew. "I don't know if they've had a flu shot or not, but I get mine at the doctor's office."
The majority of seniors said they have had a flu shot already or plan on getting one. Harold Holmes is a volunteer at the center.
"We have a nutritionist program come in," said Holmes. "People come in from the city and health department to instruct us on what to eat."
Holmes said there was a lot of hand washing at the center as well.
Pharmacist Gary Roberts of the Roberts Southbank Pharmacy said it's important for seniors to know what to take and how it mixes with their current medications.
"People should talk to a pharmacist about other meds," said Roberts. "It can elevate blood pressure, so if someone has high blood pressure, they should consult with somebody before taking something off the shelf."
Roberts said Tamiflu is a good prescription medication for helping to fight off flu symptoms. He said it's something he's sold a lot of within the past week.
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