An early flu season is swamping Tampa Bay hospitals with influenza patients.
So far this month, 108 adults and nine children infected by the virus have been admitted to BayCare Health System’s 15 acute care hospitals, according to data as of Sunday.
By contrast, 24 adults and two children were hospitalized for the flu in November 2021 at BayCare facilities, said spokesperson Lisa Razler in an email.
“We’re seeing major upticks in flu,” said Laura Arline, BayCare’s chief quality officer.
Six flu patients have been hospitalized this month at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, according to data from late last week. Only three influenza patients were admitted to the hospital in all of November last year.
Orlando Health, which owns Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, “continues to see a steady increase of flu activity,” added spokesperson Bill Kallus in an email.
The virus surged earlier than usual this season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 4.4 million flu cases, 38,000 hospitalizations and 2,100 deaths have occurred in the country since the beginning of October, according to federal estimates.
The H3N2 strain of influenza A is dominant. It causes more severe outbreaks than other types of flu.
Florida and other states across the Southeast are grappling with high levels of respiratory viruses. Flu and influenzalike illnesses are increasing in 80% of Florida counties, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco, according to a report from the state Department of Health.
Flu season typically runs between October and May. Influenza cases were down in Florida during the 2020-21 season thanks to pandemic safety measures such as masking and social distancing. Infections were also lower than usual last winter.
But that means many residents weren’t exposed to the virus, so reduced population-level immunity may be driving the early uptick in cases during the 2022-23 season.
Flu can be deadly and can cause severe complications such as pneumonia. High-risk groups include children under 5, pregnant women and people 65 and older. (As of Monday, All Children’s had not recorded an influenza death this season, according to spokesperson Danielle Caci.)
Common flu symptoms include cough, congestion, fatigue, headache, muscle ache, fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
Hospital leaders said people should get vaccinated against the virus. Everyone 6 months and older is eligible for the shots, which are available at pharmacies.
Residents should also consider wearing masks in crowded public places, said Allison Messina, chief of the division of infectious disease at All Children’s.
“Flu can make people very sick if they’re not careful,” said Peggy Duggan, chief medical officer at Tampa General Hospital.