The achy, feverish pains of flu season are making the rounds in the Tampa Bay region, say public health officials, who are urging residents and holiday visitors to be careful not to spread sickness.
On Christmas Day in Hillsborough County, emergency rooms treated about 33 percent more people suffering from the symptoms of flu than expected under surveillance models based on prior year statistics, said Steve Huard, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Health Department.
Not all were confirmed cases of the flu, he noted. But sufferers no doubt felt just as miserable.
"You've got to be very careful, especially people who are visiting families and babies," said Huard, urging vigilance about hand washing. "If you are sick, it's probably better to lock yourself in a room for a day or so, instead of getting your family sick."
Hillsborough was among more than a dozen Florida counties reporting moderately high levels of flu activity last week, according to statewide reports for the week ending Dec. 15, the most recent data available. At a Hillsborough elementary school, 21 students and three teachers all became sick with flulike symptoms.
Although some people think flu viruses aren't serious, severe infections routinely lead to hospitalizations and even death. Influenza kills thousands of Americans each year.
Many mistake the flu for a bad cold, but flu symptoms are generally more severe and come on suddenly, in a matter of hours. The signs of influenza can include fever, coughs, nausea, sore throats, body aches and fatigue.
Fevers of over 100 degrees and/or nausea are common complaints among patients showing up with the flu at Bayfront Convenient Care Clinics in the St. Petersburg area, which is also seeing higher numbers of cases.
"Our flu business is definitely up," general manager Cliff Thomson said Wednesday. "It's been pretty steady, but it's higher than last year."
Pinellas County emergency departments are reporting about twice as many flu cases as they were seeing before flu season, officials said, but their patient counts aren't significantly high.
Most people with the flu don't need medical care or antiviral drugs, which can lessen symptoms and prevent serious complications, like pneumonia. For mild cases, you can recover by resting at home and drinking lots of fluids.
The influenza strain circulating locally appears to be a good match for the current flu vaccine, which federal health experts recommend for everyone over the age of 6 months. The immunization takes a little time to become effective, but experts say it's not too late to get vaccinated.
In Florida, flu season traditionally spikes in January and February. It can continue into April, said Maggie Hall, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Health Department.
"If you got a flu shot, you're pretty much protected from what seems to be going around right now," she said.
Letitia Stein can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330.