Flu season is taking a toll throughout the U.S. this year, even in the young, healthy adults who are typically the last to come down with serious cases of the illness.
While influenza has been moderate in Northeast Florida up to this point, neighboring states including Georgia and Alabama are among dozens reporting widespread outbreaks. So far this month, half of Florida’s counties reported rising numbers of cases to the state Department of Health, and Nassau County – just north of Jacksonville – reported a flu outbreak in a long-term care facility last week. The flu will most likely continue to spread before it gets better: flu season typically peaks in late January or February.
At UF Health Jacksonville’s counterpart, UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, over 150 people have been admitted with extremely serious cases of the flu. Unfortunately 12 of them – all adults – died; only one had gotten a flu shot. While flu-related deaths are typically more common in very small children and the elderly, this year almost half of the deaths in Gainesville – five people – were adults under 40.
“It’s not necessarily that young adults are more prone to the flu than any other group. It’s that younger, healthier people are less likely to get vaccinated,” said Frank J. Genuardi, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean for student affairs and an associate professor of pediatrics at the UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville.
Flu vaccinations became available in the fall, but it’s still not too late to get a shot or nasal vaccination. The vaccine is readily available at UF Health Jacksonville and in doctors’ offices and drug stores. The Center for Disease Control recommends everyone age 6 months and older get flu shots every year.
“It’s never too late to get the vaccine. We know that everyone is at risk because the flu is out in the community,” Genuardi said.
There is an option for everyone: the traditional shot, an intranasal version, even an egg-free version for individuals with egg allergies.
Genuardi said not to believe the myth that the vaccine causes you to get the flu. It can have side effects that feel like a cold, and it can cause pain or numbness at the site of the injection. But the flu itself is much more serious and dangerous.
“I had it once in my life, and I don’t ever want to have it again. I always get the vaccine, and my whole family does, too,” Genuardi said.
Unfortunately, Florida holds the record for the lowest influenza vaccination rate in the country. Only 34.1 percent of Floridians were vaccinated last year, according to an analysis by The Trust for America’s Health. The national average is 45 percent.
This year’s most aggressive strain is H1N1, also known as swine flu. It’s the same strain that caused a major outbreak throughout the country in 2009. This year’s vaccine protects recipients against several strains of the flu, including H1N1.
Department of Health statistics show Florida has had an average of 2,300 cases of flu- or pneumonia-related deaths every year since 2010.
Getting the vaccine is the best way to prevent catching the flu. Genuardi also recommends using common sense to stop the spread of the flu: wash your hands often, avoid contact with anyone who has the flu, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, and practice good hygiene.
If you suspect you have the flu, contact your primary care physician.
Symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever (often over 100 degrees) and chills
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- A cough or sore throat
- A runny or stuffy nose
- Headaches or body aches
Where to get a flu shot:
Looking for the nearest place to get a flu vaccine in your neighborhood? This database will help: http://flushot.healthmap.org.
Here's more information about the flu from Mobeen H. Rathore, MD, a University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville professor, associate chair of pediatrics and chief of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology.
Frank J. Genuardi, MD, MPH
Associate Dean for Student Affairs; Clerkship Director; Director, UF Health Science Center - Jacksonville Web Services