TAMPA, Fla. — Doctors say the flu season has barely started and they’re already seeing cases in the Tampa Bay area.
“It’s alarming,” said Dr. John Sinnott, Chairman of Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida and Epidemiologist at Tampa General Hospital.
In Tampa Bay, the flu season usually peaks in February.
“Last year there was no flu season, now people are worried about what that means,” said Dr. Edwin Michael, Professor in Epidemiology at the University of South Florida.
“If you have a mild year, it’s always followed by a bad year, because what happens is you lose immunity in the community as a whole,” said Sinnott.
Researchers are seeing the increase in cases across the country.
Data from Walgreens shows flu activity is already 23% higher nationwide when compared to last year at this time.
“Our community, is not, their immune system is not ready for influenza,” said Sinnott.
That’s why doctors are encouraging people to get their flu shots now, instead of waiting until later in the season as they would normally suggest.
“Now with the lack of immunity in the population, I’m in favor of getting it early,” said Sinnott.
Health experts worry people aren’t taking the flu seriously and fear that could lead to a large spread of cases, as we’re still dealing with COVID-19.
“We run the risk of what you call a 'twindemic' in which you have influenza and COVID at the same time,” said Sinnott.
“Influenza is a serious, systemic illness that kills on average about 250 children a year needlessly and about 35,000 adults,” he added.
Besides getting vaccinated, doctors stress hand hygiene is particularly important to avoid getting the flu.
“More than COVID, influenza is spread by hands… If you’re around somebody who’s sick, leave. You don’t know if they have COVID or influenza,” said Sinnott.
Doctors say it’s a good idea to also avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
It’s important to remember flu symptoms usually include fever, cough, and lower back pain.
“It’s a serious illness. I cannot emphasize how dangerous influenza can be,” said Sinnott.
If you’re high risk, which would include being pregnant, over 65, or having any chronic organ diseases, a flu shot is especially important for you this year.
“With COVID declining, flu might make a comeback. So I think the message should be — go get the vaccines,” said Michael.