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Why Is Florida Seeing Fewer Flu Cases?

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This flu season, you might have noticed fewer people using their sick days.

There have been significantly fewer flu cases this season than there were last season, said Dr. Nicole Iovine, a University of Florida Health doctor who specializes in infectious diseases.

She said this time last season, there were about 8,000 flu cases in the U.S. — compared to only 400 this year.

“The difference is enormous,” Iovine said.

Florida has also seen this trend, in part because this season’s flu vaccine is targeting the most dominant strains better than last season’s did, Iovine said.

At this time last season, 6 percent of patients reported they had flu-like illnesses when they visited Florida outpatient departments, like doctors’ offices and emergency rooms. This month, only 2 percent of patients reported to have flu-like illnesses, wrote Elizabeth Powers, the senior community health nursing director for the Florida Department of Health in Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist Counties, in an email.

Powers said local health departments used to focus on flu shots for the elderly. A few years ago they learned that vaccinating school-age children, who spread the virus, limits the number of flu cases more effectively.

That’s why local areas, like Alachua and Levy counties, provide the FluMist vaccine to school children with parent consent, she said.

Flu Infographic
The number of Americans visiting a doctor with flu-like illnesses during the first week of January dropped significantly this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity typically peaks between December and February. (Ansley Pentz/WUFT News)

Iovine said she is confident there are fewer flu cases in Alachua County because of the school-vaccination program.

When vaccines target a season’s dominant strains, vaccinated children are less likely to spread the flu, she said.

“The flu vaccine that we have this year seems to match the strains we have this year,” Iovine said.

Victoria Graham, a 25-year-old Gainesville mother, said she and her family get vaccinated every year. But last year’s vaccine didn’t keep her children from getting sick.

“All three of them had it, and it was really bad,” she said, noting that she, her husband and other family members also had the flu.

She said this year’s flu vaccine seems to be working.

“I feel like this year’s vaccine is focused more on the strain that’s going around,” Graham said.

Sheetal Obal, a Gainesville mother, said she also vaccinated her children.

“They’re exposed to so many germs in school and in the community,” the 40-year-old said.

Obal said she’s noticed less people out sick at work this year. She said she thinks it’s a combination of more people being immunized, less rampant strains and more mild, warmer weather.

Powers said it is impossible for the flu shot to give people the flu. While some may feel aches as they develop antibodies or may have been exposed to the flu prior to getting the shot, there is no live flu virus in the vaccine, so it cannot infect those who were vaccinated.

Iovine said flu season is not over, and she recommends that people get vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity typically peaks between December and February.

“We don’t know exactly how the rest of the season will unfold,” Iovine said.

About Ansley Pentz

Ansley is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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