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Florida flu cases growing

7:22 PM, Jan 3, 2011   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida --  If you haven't felt the stuffed up nose, sore throat and achy body in recent weeks, you probably know somebody who has.

"It was something to deal with," said Jacqueline Pinder, whose friend became ill last week. "The coughing, the sneezing, the headaches, the whole nine yards."

"A lot of people at the office have been sick," said Judy Cox.

"Yeah.  We're all real careful about washing our hands because it seems to spread real easily," added her friend, Tammy O'Brien.

The Florida Department of Health says influenza-like illness activity is moderate and increasing. 

Click:  Flu.gov

The news is better in the Tampa bay region, with the spread of  flu-like cases being mild.  Further south though, it's a different story with more cases being reported.

What makes the spread so unusual, according to doctors, is the time of year we're seeing people get sick.

"We've been seeing flu cases pretty steadily since September, which is unusual for Florida because our season doesn't usually start until January or February," said Dr. James Orlowski, Chief of Pediatrics at University Community Hospital.

The Hillsborough County Department of Health tells 10 News area hospitals saw 62 percent more people with flu-like symptoms last week than expected.

When you've got the flu, Dr. Orlowski says you pretty much feel it right away.

The symptoms are often sudden and include body aches, fever, runny nose and sore throat.

Click:  FDOH: Influenza Fact Sheet

"If you come to the doctor within 24 or 48 hours of starting the symptoms of the flu, they can give you Tamiflu, which is a specific anti-viral drug for the flu and that will shorten the course of the flu," explained Dr. Orlowski.

While Tamiflu can help shorten the number of days you'll be sick, he says it won't be by much.

"In reality, it shortens the flu course from five to six days to four to five days, so it's not a tremendous improvement," he said.

While it's not a significant difference, he says he still recommends it, especially for children, since shortening the sick days can reduce the chance for complications.

By far, though, the best advice he has is to not get sick at all and the best way to do that is the flu vaccine.

"There's really no substitute for getting the flu vaccine. That's the very best defense for not only yourself, but your entire family," he said.

Click:  FDOH: Flu shot locator

He reminds that it takes seven to ten days for the vaccine to become effective.

That means to continue to wash your hands frequently and avoiding large groups of people where someone may be sick.

While you may cough into your elbow and cover your nose with a tissue when you sneeze, you can't count on everyone else to do the same.

"What happens with coughing and sneezing, you can spread droplets as much as ten feet, so that's very contagious and, also, if it gets onto environmental surfaces, it remains contagious for hours," he pointed out.

This also applies to almost every other bug, including the common cold.

Dr. Orlowski:  Q & A

Q.  How long are you contagious when it comes to the flu?

A.  Typically you are contagious until you've been without fever for 24 hours.  You are contagious 24 hours before you get symptoms.

Q.  Should I treat my fever?

A.  You have to understand, if you can avoid treating the fever that goes with it, then you will get well quicker.  The fever is there for a reason.  The fever actually helps you get better quicker.

Q.  What if I can't take the pain?

A.  Take an anti-inflammatory.

Q.  Will vitamins and herbal remedies help?

A.  We know some things that don't work.  There's been some recent reports that, for example zinc is not of any value, echinacea is not of any value.  Vitamin C is still sort of a coin toss.

Q.  What do you recommend if I get sick?

A.  If you get sick, the most important things are to stay away from other people which means stay home from work or school if you are sick, get plenty of fluids, plenty of rest.

Laura Kadechka, 10 News

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