Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

One-two punch of pollen, flu hits Florida hard

ST. PETERSBURG — Kindergarten teacher Linda Ploch usually has 16 students in her class.

This week, the number dwindled to four.

The flu and oak pollen seasons converged to ravage Ploch's Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School class and fill clinics, hospitals and doctors' offices in the Tampa Bay area.

The problem started with a flu vaccine that doesn't match all of this year's common strains. Then, the worst of the season hit late, coinciding with the spring blooms of oak trees that make allergy sufferers miserable. Even as people start to feel better, their weakened immune systems are easy prey for respiratory infections.

"We are having record-breaking days," said Dr. Kimberly Gibson, medical director of the Doctor's Walk-In Clinic, which has treated patients with flu and high fevers at seven locations in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. "They're not coming in because they've got a sniffle. They're really in bad shape."

The flu became widespread in Florida during the last week of February. Health officials say this flu season seems worse than average because the last two years have been mild, which made some people complacent about getting vaccinated.

It's hard to predict where in the country the flu will strike first, though it's usually worst in February, said Curtis Allen, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This year Florida is one of the last states hit by the flu.

"There's no rhyme or reason to it," Allen said. "Influenza is notoriously unpredictable."

He said the CDC won't be able to tell why Florida had a later, more severe season than in recent years until it's over. The vaccine mismatch could be an explanation, but it's too soon to tell. He added that this year's flu season across the country is average compared with the last two decades.

What is unusual, though, is the double whammy of allergy and flu season in Florida.

Dr. Richard F. Lockey, a professor at the University of South Florida College of Medicine who has a private practice in Tampa, said now is the peak of oak catkins, the yellowish strands of blooms that release pollen.

For many people, these allergens inflame the nose, weakening its normal defense system and making it less able to fend off viruses like the flu and bacterial infections that lead to bronchitis. Allergies and flu both trigger asthma as well.

"If trees were made by mankind, they'd be in an awful lot of trouble because they cause so much disease," Lockey said.

Another allergist, Dr. Raquelle Alexander, said her St. Petersburg practice has cared for asthmatics sick enough to need nebulizers, a treatment usually reserved for emergency care. She regrets leaving town last week for an academic conference in Philadelphia.

"March has been a freak month," Alexander said. "I came back to an office where the phones were ringing off the hook and nobody was happy."

Hospitals in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are seeing dozens of confirmed cases of the flu a week. Doctors are also seeing patients who were vaccinated come down with the flu. Others are suffering from sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia after getting over the flu.

Hiten Upadhyay, an emergency medicine physician at Bayfront Medical Center, said he treats about five cases a day.

Allen of the CDC said people should remember that the flu is a serious disease that annually causes about 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations, mostly among people older than 65.

The Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School in Shore Acres has a policy that requires students to be fever-free for 24 hours before coming back to school. Holly Carlson, LCC director, urges parents to keep kids home one more day for a full recovery.

"Academically, it's not a problem," she said, "but it could set them back, and they could share."

Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or [email protected]

. fast facts

Avoiding the flu

• If you suspect you're coming down with the flu, see a doctor within 72 hours. Taking antivirals early in the illness can shorten the duration and make you less contagious.

• Allergies are treatable. If you regularly suffer, talk to your doctor or a specialist.

• It's not too late to get flu shots. It takes about two weeks for them to protect against the virus, and the season can last until May.

• Basic hygiene: frequent hand-washing, using hand sanitizer, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home until you feel better.

One-two punch of pollen, flu hits Florida hard 03/20/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 6:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lightning edges Red Wings on road

    Lightning Strikes

    DETROIT — The digs were different, the Lightning seeing the masterfully-done new Little Caesar's Arena for the first time.

    Lightning center/Red Wings’ killer Tyler Johnson gets past defenseman Trevor Daley on his way to the first goal of the game.
  2. Armwood pulls away to defeat Plant 27-7, remain undefeated


    SEFFNER — First-year Armwood coach Evan Davis pulled out all the stops to get his team psyched for Monday's annual grudge match against Plant.

    Armwood defensive end Malcolm Lamar (97) gets fired up before the start of the game between Plant High School Panthers and the Armwood High School Hawks in Suffer, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.
  3. Clearwater police: Car thief dead after owner fires gun


    CLEARWATER — One man is dead after the owner of a car fired shots at the thieves who were stealing it Monday night, police said.

  4. Iraqi forces sweep into Kirkuk, checking Kurdish independence drive


    KIRKUK, Iraq — After weeks of threats and posturing, the Iraqi government began a military assault Monday to curb the independence drive by the nation's Kurdish minority, wresting oil fields and a contested city from separatists pushing to break away from Iraq.

    Iraqi security forces patrol Monday in Tuz Khormato, about 45 miles south of Kirkuk, a disputed city that the government seized in response to last month’s Kurdish vote for independence.
  5. Trump and McConnell strive for unity amid rising tensions


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, tried to convey a sense of harmony Monday after months of private feuding that threatened to undermine their party's legislative push in the coming weeks to enact a sweeping tax cut.

    President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell field questions Monday in the Rose Garden of the White House. “We have been friends for a long time,” Trump said.