Flu deaths an unfortunate reminder to get shots

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - UF Health in Gainesville announced Thursday that 12 people have died from the flu since October and more than 150 people have been admitted to the hospital with the virus.

That's an alarming number to many people, including Jacksonville doctors, who say this serves as another unfortunate reminder that it's not too late too get a flu shot.

In Duval County, there have been five deaths from the flu so far this season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that there are still months left in this flu season.

The CDC said most of the nation has seen moderate to high flu activity this week. The Duval County Health Department, however, said this flu season has been mild so far, but people still need to get their flu shots.

"What's concerning to us right now is not the number of case being referred to Shands at UF but the severity of these cases," said Paul Myers, of the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County.

Alachua County health officials are not taking this virus lightly. The Florida Health Department says four of the 12 deaths were people younger than 40, which is unusual given that the elderly are typically the age group that experiences complications from the flu.

Eleven of the 12 who died had not been vaccinated.

"Once you get it, it takes about two weeks for your body to form antibodies against the virus," said Dr. Wesley Mills, of St. Vincent's HealthCare. "So that's why it's important to get it now because the flu season could last until April or May, so it's not too late to get it. But you want to get it sooner than later since it takes two weeks to take effect."

Of the five confirmed deaths in Duval County, three were women and two were men. Their ages ranged from 35 to 74.

The CDC said it can't determine why younger people are dying from the flu until it has gathered each state's statistics after the flu season. Then it will be able to provide more information like what states were hit the hardest, what ages and why.

In the meantime, the CDC says flu season is far from over. Mills said he's seen more flu activity in his office this year than last, and getting an annual flu shot is imperative.

"We do it yearly because we think it starts to lose its effectiveness over that period of time," he said. "So you definitely want to get one annually, not only because it loses its effectiveness, but also because they change the strains in the vaccination."

Mills said each year health officials try to pick the strands of flu that they think will be most prevalent that year, and that's what the vaccination tries to prevent.

If you are having any flu-like symptoms, see a doctor within 48 hours because some of the medications they use to treat the flu only work if given in that time period.

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