GAINESVILLE — Officials at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville say 12 people have died of flu there — including five who were younger than 40.
According to a news release from the hospital, the deaths have occurred since October. Officials said that more than 150 people with the flu have been admitted to the hospital during that time frame.
Health officials said the flu is a variant of the H1N1 virus that emerged in 2009 and has been labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
"One of the theories is that while we know that the vast majority of cases are H1N1, there is some thought that the H1N1 has changed," said Alachua County Health Department administrator Paul Myers. "Clearly, there is something that is different about the virus that is causing the severity in these patients."
Several other areas in Florida have reported flu deaths in recent weeks, including Brevard County, where a woman in her 30s died Sunday.
The Gainesville Sun reported that 11 of the patients who died had not been vaccinated against the flu virus. Hospital officials didn't say how many of the 150-plus patients with the flu had been vaccinated.
"Given what I know about influenza and the protection vaccination provides, it would not surprise me if a large majority were not vaccinated," Myers said.
The Gainesville area has traditionally had a comparatively lower level of influenza because of the Alachua school district's FluMist vaccine program, Myers said, adding that it has a "community immunity" effect. He said that last year, 13,000 children from kindergarten to 12th grade received the vaccinations.
Myers said none of the flu victims were children.
Officials said flu vaccines are still available.
"We have not reached our peak flu season yet, and so it is not too late to get vaccinated," he said. "If you are ill, stay home, contact your primary care provider and wash your hands frequently."