Flu hits some areas harder than others; Tampa region has dodges worst of it, so far

TAMPA - While some cities have had crippling outbreaks of the new 2012-13 version of the flu, it's been a case of "not-as-bad-as-it-could-be" here.

But folks are still flocking to doctors, clinics and even to the Health Department for a flu shot. 

It's the best way to protect yourself against the current H3N2 strain of the flu that has been going around.  And while areas like the Panhandle, Central and South Florida have been hit harder this season, we here in the Tampa Bay area have dodged the bullet.

"We have not been notified of any negative impact on the hospitals," said Warren McDougle, Epidemiology Program Manager with the State Health Department's Tampa Office.

He was quick to add, however that it's still early in the season.  "We have seen increased visits through our emergency rooms data.  We are seeing increases in influenza-like illness."  

I've checked with hospitals on both sides of the Bay this morning, and from Morton Plant Mease to TGH, officials say they're monitoring the situation and taking pro-active measures like encouraging or mandating that their staff to get the shots, and they're telling visitors with flu-like symptoms to stay away from patients if at all possible. 

But that's pretty standard stuff, according to McDougle, who has been tracking flus for the past seven seasons with the health department… through vaccine shortages, the H1N1 scare… and now this.  He told me that this year, the flu is hitting harder sooner, but it's not a crippling strain, and when I asked him -- point blank -- if we need to be worried:

"I would say that you protect yourself -- you won't have to worry about the flu.  Get your flu shot.  Wash your hands.  Cover your sneeze and cough, and if you're sick… please stay home."

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