Local News

Peak of Influenza season occurring in Highlands County

SEBRING - This influenza season is turning out to be an enigma health officials say.

Usually, the flu disproportionately hits the very young or the very old, said Patrick Hickey, epidemiologist for the Florida Department of Health in Highlands County.

But, this year, young adults and pregnant woman, as opposed to infants or children and seniors, seem to be more at risk for the disease, Hickey said.

Another difference is that the peak is coming somewhat later than normal, he said. "It's an odd season."

The good news, Hickey said, is no one in Highlands County has died from flu complications.

People in Highlands County have contracted Influenza type A and B, as well as H1N1, he said. H1N1 has been referred to as being close to the swine flu.

During the past three weeks, 42 cases of the flu have been reported, Hickey said. Of those, 13 involved people being hospitalized and three being placed in an Intensive Care Unit.

Hickey said that Highlands County experienced three cases in September, 19 in October, 14 in November, 62 in December and 40 as of Jan. 24 in January.

Many of the cases have involved adults under the age of 40, he said.

As of Jan. 15, a map on the News 9 website showed that Highlands County had widespread flu activity, along with Okeechobee and Hardee counties. Activity appeared to be lighter in Polk and DeSoto counties.

The CBS 4 web site in Miami reported that as of Jan. 10, at least 12 people had died in Florida from the flu since October.

The Florida Department of Health has recommended strongly that pregnant women get an inactivated flu vaccination.

In a letter, State Epidemiologist Anna M. Likos wrote that the flu is five times more likely to cause serious illness in pregnant women.

"Changes in immune, heart and lung functions during pregnancy increase the risk for several complications from influenza," she said in the letter.

Despite that, she wrote it's been estimated that only 41 percent of pregnant women get flu shots.

Earlier this month, a woman in her mid 20s died at Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center in Brevard County, according to WESH, NBC News's website.

The site reported that one other woman had died in Brevard County this month and that two were on life support after contracting the flu.

The Florida Department of Health office in Highlands County recommends that anyone older than 6 months get a flu shot.

Tips to avoid getting the flu include washing your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth and avoiding contact with sick people. The department also recommends getting plenty of sleep and exercise, managing stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating healthy food.


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