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Spike in flu outbreaks prompt warning from Tampa Bay area health officials

Posted at 7:10 PM, Nov 18, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. -- Health Department leaders across Tampa Bay are concerned about an early start to flu season.

Ten outbreaks at Hillsborough County Schools recently prompted the health department to send home letters with students urging parents to vaccinate.

Typically, health officials see flu outbreaks in January and February, but Hillsborough County is leading the state with 10 outbreaks since the end of September. Across Florida, health officials are seeing a concerning number of early flu cases.

As a hospital employee and a dad, David Seal doesn’t like to take chances when it comes to his family’s health.

“Some people are a little shy about vaccines but I’m totally for it so we get it as soon as possible and even if we do get the flu, that way we lessen the severity of it,” he explained.

David, his wife and 2-year-old daughter Josie got this year’s flu shot. The family's 3-week-old son, however, is too young.

“So anything flu-related for him is going to be very dangerous,” David Seal explained.

Day cares and schools are the number-one source of flu outbreaks in Florida since September.

“Everything they touch from their desks they sit at and then the bell rings and someone else sits at their desk. These germs can spread very easily by touch,” explained Nancy Epps who works at Tampa General Hospital.

Epps recommends hand sanitizer for students, knowing they can’t always get to the bathroom to wash their hands.

She also recommends loading up on vitamins and sleep.

“Getting all the sleep you need good nutrition, that’s definitely going to help you keep your immune system healthy,” she added.

The flu vaccine is typically 50 to 60 percent effective, though it’s too early to know how well this year’s vaccine will work.

Doctors are also urging parents to keep kids home at the first signs of the flu like body aches, coughing and fatigue. Doctors say by the time they have a fever, it's too late.

“The flu can spread up to a day before your systems start so if someone is starting to feel ill, it’s better to keep them home,” Epps elaborated.

With holiday travel and get-togethers just around the corner, health care workers worry these outbreaks will only get worse.

If you have health insurance, you likely can get the flu shot for free. Otherwise, you can visit your local health departments which are offering flu shots for free for children, $30 for adults age 19 to 64 and $60 for the higher dose shot for adults age 65 and older.