Flu season has begun with a bang and more than half the states, including Florida, have been classified "high" activity areas by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control.
It's worse than usual, doctors say.
The Miami Herald says five percent of Florida emergency room and clinic visits are by patients with flu symptoms. Two Florida children have died and the last time the state saw such widespread flu was in 2009.
But it's worse elsewhere. Boston has seen 700 cases and 18 deaths so far this flu season, as CBS News reports. Chicago hospitals are overwhelmed and sending incoming ambulances away. There's even an angle from Wall Street, where investors are worried the flu season will leave first quarter growth with body aches and a dry cough.
But bad as it is, the Herald reports, it still could be worse:
In Florida, on a local level, none of the 67 counties reported “widespread” flu-like activity. But 20 are at the next-highest level, “moderate,” including Broward County.
Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties reported “mild” activity as of the last week at year’s end, the most recent report available from the health department.
Miami-Dade’s school district and Miami Children’s Hospital both say that they’re not seeing a high level of flu activity, at least not yet.
Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, chief of emergency medicine at Broward Health, said that he and his physicians have seen double the number of patients with flu-like symptoms compared to this point last year.
Floridians are being urged to get flu shots although it’s not clear yet that the flu vaccine being distributed is the correct one to fight this year's prevalent influenza strains. Choosing the flu to immunize against is always a crap-shoot, researchers say, and although the record is generally good, the penalties for guessing wrong are high.
The vaccine for the 2003-2004 flu season was not a good match for the bug that appeared that year. There were 40,000 deaths.
Doctors say this year's flu doesn't seem to be making people quite as sick as in previous years but, they warn, that could change.
Flu avoidance involves staying away from infected people and washing your hands a lot. If you come down with symptoms, and you've determined it’s not just a cold, stay home, rest, take ibuprofen or acetaminophen and wait it out.
The antiviral Tamiflu has been helpful, but you should not consider it a substitute for a flu shot, and you should definitely read about it first.
On being contagious: You can give other people the flu for a whole day before you show the symptoms yourself and people around you will be in danger of catching it for as long as a week after you get sick.
And finally, unless you become seriously ill, you'll probably be staying home. According to the Miami Herald report, it’s a crazy busy flu season and the hospital and clinic beds are full.