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North Florida severe flu cases on the rise

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UF Health & Shands has reported an increase in influenza-like cases this flu season, with more than 150 patients admitted and 12 deaths since October.

Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers said most cases are being caused by a variant of H1N1, which first appeared during 2009’s flu outbreak. The majority of hospitalizations were patients who hadn’t received vaccinations.

“What we’re seeing different now is the severity of the illness in those that are being admitted into the hospital,” Myers said.

The issue isn’t just limited to Gainesville. According to a press release, nine of the 12 deaths were from neighboring counties in North Florida.

Myers said the most important thing people can do is get vaccinated.

According to the press release, five of the 12 deaths were patients under the age of 40, causing concern that the young are particularly susceptible.

Alachua County Schools Health Services Supervisor Patricia Hughes said although the schools haven’t seen a significant amount of flu-like responses, she encouraged parents to vaccinate their children and themselves. School staff are also encouraged to vaccinate themselves as well as their families.

Hughes said 60 percent of the school system’s 30,000 students have been vaccinated with FluMist.

She said parents should also teach their children health etiquette such as blowing their noses, washing their hands, covering their coughs and keeping their hands out of their mouths.

“Flu is airborne, and in children we know that they don’t necessarily cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough,” she said.

Flu cases increase in Florida after holidays because people travelling contract the illnesses and bring them back home, she said.

Myers said the Alachua County school system’s FluMist vaccination program reduces the county’s average of 120 hospitalizations in a typical year to around 20.

According to the FluMist website, the vaccine protects against four strains of flu and is available for people ages two to 49.

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