Health News

How bad is this flu season? Experts answer

Orlando SentinelThis year’s flu season is in full swing. Two recent flu deaths in Brevard County, with a dozen more reported in Gainesville since October, and bad flu news across the country are raising concerns among Central Floridians. The Sentinel asked local flu experts to weigh in.

Is this an unusually bad flu season?

As epidemics go, no, said Dr. Kevin Sherin, director of the Orange County Health Department. Even though the season so far is relatively mild in terms of the number of people infected, the flu has hit some, particularly younger adults, hard. Some have died.

The two Brevard cases involved women in their 30s. One was pregnant when she got sick but delivered the baby before she died. Of the 12 who died in Gainesville, five were younger than 40, UF Health Shands Hospital officials said.

Why are younger people getting hit so hard?

We’re seeing a strain of the swine flu, or H1N1, that hasn’t been circulating since the 1970s, Sherin said. That strain went dormant for a while and has come back. Many who were alive then are immune to that strain, but those born after 1980 aren’t.

Ironically, being young and having healthy immune systems can do young adults in. “They mount a heck of a response,” Sherin said. That revved-up reaction can cause causes lungs to “white out,” or fill with fluid. That’s how some patients end up on respirators and develop pneumonia, which can be fatal.

How common is it to die from the flu?

While death from flu is rare, every flu season at least 3,000 Floridians die from flu or flu complications, Sherin said.

How do I know if I have cold or flu?

When you’re under the covers shaking with chills and have a high fever, body aches and a cough, you have the flu, Sherin said. It can last a week or more. When you have a runny nose, a cough and only a low fever or no fever, that’s a cold.

Vomiting from an intestinal virus is something else. Usually stomach bugs last 24 to 48 hours and are caused by viruses the flu vaccine doesn’t protect against.

When are you contagious?

You can spread the flu 24 hours before you develop symptoms and shouldn’t go back to work or school until you’ve been fever-free (without fever-reducing medications) for 24 hours, said Dr. Tim Hendrix, medical director for Centra Care, which has centers across Central Florida. [Read full story]