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No flu shot? Get one now
January 4, 2018

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Florida is not yet among the 21 states the U.S. Center for Disease Control has reported as having a high-concern level of flu and flu-like activity thus far this season, but counting on that to continue is not the best way to start the new year.

In fact, the Florida Department of Health, in its most recent summary, advises that "Flu season is here and activity continues to increase."

"Activity among all age groups increased and remained above levels observed during the previous two flu seasons at this time," the department reports .

Ten outbreaks were reported in December: five confirmed for influenza cases and five for flu-like illnesses with 58 outbreaks of flu and flu-like disease reported since the start of the 2017-18 season, the agency states.

"More outbreaks have been reported so far this season than in previous seasons at this time, which may be an early indication of a more severe influenza season," the Heath Department reports, adding, "Statewide, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) activity remains high and above previous seasons."

Here in Lee County, Lee Health saw a significant spike last month in positive tests for flu with more than 330 positives during the week of Dec. 18-25 as compared to approximately 190 just the week before. The sharp increase prompted the health system on Friday to restrict children 12 and younger from visiting patients in the intensive care units, pediatric intensive care units and hematology/oncology units.

"Flu season" began in October; December through March are peak months with February typically having the greatest number of cases.

Both the CDC and the Florida Department of Health continue to urge flu shots, with the CDC emphasizing that "getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu."

Why is this important, besides dealing with the obvious unpleasantness of fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue?

The flu can be much more serious, particularly for the very young, those of us who are older, and those with compromised immune systems.

The flu, in fact, can kill.

"An average of about 36,000 people per year in the United States die from influenza, and 114,000 per year have to be admitted to the hospital as a result of influenza infection. Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems from influenza can happen at any age. People age 65 years and older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions, and very young children are more likely to get complications from influenza," the CDC reports on its web site.

Flu shots are inexpensive with many insurance plans covering the cost. They are readily available and, despite some recent reports, reasonably effective, reducing the risk of getting the flu between 40 and 60 percent.

And no, the vaccine cannot "give you the flu."

The Florida Department of Health provides free shots for children in Lee County. Free flu vaccines for children 6 months old through 18 years are available at the department's Immunization clinic, 3920 Michigan Avenue, Fort Myers. Clinic hours are 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday. Flu vaccine for adults 19 years and older is $30, with High-Dose flu vaccine for adults 65 years and older $50.

Appointments are needed and may be made by calling 239-461-6100.

Local health care providers and pharmacies all over Lee County also provide flu shots.

Visit floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/prevention/flu-prevention/locate-a-flu-shot.html for additional guidance as to location.

- Breeze editorial

Editor's Note: This editorial has been updated to reflect Lee Health's decision to restrict children 12 and younger from visiting patients in the intensive care units, pediatric intensive care units and hematology/oncology units. The restriction applies to pediatric and adult units but does not include the Trauma ICU at Lee Memorial Hospital. Compassionate care allowances will be made when necessary. Visitors also may be asked to follow additional precautions in some pediatric ICU and oncology areas.

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