Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Health

Tampa Bay may be facing a tough flu season

One area hospital has seen a sharp increase this month in children coming in with flu-like symptoms. Health officials are urging people to get a flu shot.
Ana Martinez, a medical assistant at the Sea Mar Community Health Center in Seattle, gives a patient a flu shot. Some signs are already pointing to an active flu season in the Tampa Bay area. [TED S. WARREN | Associated Press]
Published Oct. 9
Updated Oct. 9

Click here to read this story in Spanish.

Flu season is here, and local health officials warn it could be a busy one.

The pediatric emergency room at AdventHealth Tampa recorded a 30 percent increase in patients this month, with about half of those coming in with flu-like symptoms, said Brandon Bougard, a registered nurse and the hospital’s assistant vice president of emergency care.

“I do think we’re in for a busy season, more compared to what we saw in 2017-18 than last year," he said. "This season started early. We started seeing active cases in August.”

While it’s too early to predict just how bad the flu season will be nationally, some look to Australia as an indicator of what’s to come.

Just like the U.S., that country had a heavy flu season two years ago, followed by a lighter season this past year. So officials are taking note that, this year, Australians saw the flu arrive early and with a vengeance. Outbreaks there started in April, resulting in more than 660 deaths so far.

The U.S. flu season comes about six months after Australia’s as winter reaches the Northern Hemisphere. Though it isn’t always foolproof, U.S. health officials say using trends in other parts of the world can help predict what the flu season will be like at home.

RELATED STORY: The future of the flu: Will we ever be able to beat it?

About 79,000 people in the U.S., including 180 children, died in the 2017-18 season because of the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 900,000 people were hospitalized, including many in Tampa Bay. Florida reported 515 outbreaks in all, and at least six child deaths from the flu during the season.

Last year’s flu season was mild in comparison.

“Even if the flu is active nationwide, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be as active in Tampa Bay. It’s hard to generalize,”said Dr. Kaley Tash, an infectious disease specialist with USF Health. Tash is the daughter of Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of Times Publishing Co.

So far this year, Bougard at AdventHealth said the hospital is seeing multiple strains of influenza, but influenza B seems to be most prevalent.

“Almost like hurricane season, it’s difficult to say just how bad this season will be. It’s one of those things you have to see play out,” said Tom Iovino, a spokesman with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. “One good piece advice is to get your shot now.”

Even though influenza rates are low across Florida and most of the U.S. right now, local health departments and physicians say that getting the flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chance of catching it.

The vaccine won’t necessarily prevent the flu, it will help lessen the symptoms if someone catches the virus. It’s safe for anyone six months or older, and a stronger dosage is recommended for patients 65 and older.

“I understand people are sick of hearing ‘Go get your flu shot,’ but even though it’s not perfect technology for preventing influenza illness, it’s pretty darn good at keeping you out of the hospital,” Tash said. “We’ve all lost patients to flu, even in a quiet season.”

Health officials recommend getting the vaccine before Halloween. It takes about two weeks for the body to build up immunity after receiving the shot, Iovino said.

RELATED: Attention Publix shoppers, the doctor will see you now

If a person is experiencing severe symptoms, like trouble breathing, high fever, vomiting and general disorientation, they should go to a hospital emergency room. Early and mild symptoms like a cough, sore throat and congestion, can be treated and diagnosed at an urgent care center.

Tamiflu is the most common prescription medication available to treat flu symptoms, but it’s generally only effective if the flu is diagnosed in the first few days of experiencing symptoms.

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new flu medication called Xofluza, which is a single-dose antiviral medication that can be prescribed to patients 12 years or older. Like Tamiflu, it is effective in patients who have felt sick for less than 48 hours.

“Tamiflu is the tried and true medication for flu season,” Tash said. “Xofluza is a single dose, which is great. But because it’s new, some patients might have trouble getting it quickly approved by their insurance.”

Retailers like Publix, Winn-Dixie, CVS and Walgreens are offering promotions for flu shots right now.

Also, county health departments in Florida offer events for free flu shots during the season. Pinellas County is hosting its annual “Flu Boo” from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 26 at John Hopkins Middle School, 701 16th St. S in St. Petersburg.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A helicopter lands at Tampa General Hospital, one of 66 Florida hospitals that could benefit from a proposal contained in Gov. Ron DeSantis' new budget, a new analysis finds. JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Tampa General is among the hospitals that would receive money from a proposal seeking to hand out $10 million in new funding.
  2. Work nears completion Wednesday on a common area inside the new USF Health building that will serve as a centerpiece of the Water Street Tampa development in downtown. The 13-story tower is set to open in January. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The long-anticipated building, part of Water Street Tampa, will welcome students on Jan. 13.
  3. One way to research options is through Medicare's online Plan Finder, available at medicare.gov/find-a-plan. THOMAS TOBIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    For those who haven’t reviewed coverage for 2020, there is still time.
  4. North Tampa Behavioral Health in Wesley Chapel JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Regulators also found widespread problems with patient care after a Tampa Bay Times investigation into the facility
  5. Lorraine Bonner, a retired Oakland, Calif., doctor who is now a sculptor, says she spent a year recovering after surgical staples were used to seal her colon. A newly uncovered federal database reveals previously hidden problems with the staples that were used in her operation. HEIDI DE MARCO  |  California Healthline
    Millions of injuries and malfunctions once funneled to a hidden government database are now available, prompting many to take a closer look.
  6. Employees are paying more for health insurance. MICHAEL MCCLOSKEY  |  iStockPhoto
    Employees in only two other states paid more relative to their household income.
  7. Tampa Bay Times health reporter Justine Griffin has her finger pricked and blood collected with a lancet to demonstrate a new, one-minute HIV test now available at Metro Inclusive Health in St. Petersburg. MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times
    Recently approved by the health department, the INSTI test is reaching more people in a state at the center of the HIV epidemic.
  8. Local emergency rooms and urgent care centers are seeing an increase in cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, this year. As of mid-November, 7 percent of children under 5 discharged from Florida hospitals and urgent care centers were diagnosed with RSV symptoms, up from 5 percent last year and 4 percent the year before. Times (2006)
    The virus known as RSV is common, but severe causes could lead to bronchiolitis or pneumonia.
  9. The Branson family (from left: Michael, Emma, Lucy and Katy) was surprised when they received a $2,659 bill after Lucy needed to get a tiny doll shoe removed from her nose. HEIDI DE MARCO  |  Kaiser Health News
    The Bransons had weathered a typical night of parenting and didn’t give it much more thought. Then the hospital bill came.
  10. The average American life expectancy grew overall from 2000 to 2015, but that the astounding rise in opioid-related deaths shaved 2.5 months off this improvement, according to a study. [Associated Press]
    Americans are being cut down increasingly in the prime of life by drug overdoses, suicides and diseases such as cirrhosis, liver cancer and obesity.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement