Flu bypassing Alachua County, so far


In this Oct. 3, 2012 file photo, University of Florida College of Nursing student Alyssa Larsen administers FluMist, a nasal spray flu immunization, to students at Glen Springs Elementary School.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.

Alachua County has not seen the spike in flu cases that other parts of the state and nation are experiencing, but health professionals have noted an incremental rise in cases and are bracing themselves for the worst yet to come.

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In this Oct. 3, 2012 file photo, University of Florida College of Nursing student Alyssa Larsen administers FluMist, a nasal spray flu immunization, to students at Glen Springs Elementary School.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

Facts

Where to get the flu vaccine in Gainesville

- North Florida Regional Medical Center's Express Care at 6500 Newberry Road: cost: $20
- The Alachua County Health Department will conduct flu clinics at the Health Department at 224 SE 24th Street from 8:30 am-6:30 pm. The vaccine is free for school-aged children and health department clients; it costs $25 for others, but most insurance plans cover it.
- The MinuteClinic inside the CVS at 3404 Archer Road and the MinuteClinic at 4354 NW 23rd Ave: cost: $32. Other CVS stores and all Walgreens' locations.

“In Alachua County, we're doing very well. School absenteeism has been below baseline so far,” said Paul Myers, administrator of the Alachua County Health Department.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the flu was widespread in 47 states, with high levels in 24, although some states reported a waning. Cases seem to be creeping up across Florida. The Tampa Bay Times last week reported that Tampa hospitals had experienced a significant increase in flu cases.

Myers credits the containment of the virus so far in Alachua County in part to the FluMist vaccination program in schools that the county started a few years ago. In November, the Alachua County Commission approved funding for the program for the next 15 years.

“If you can vaccinate elementary and middle school students you are protecting the community as a whole,” Myers said.

More than 50 percent of school-aged children have received the flu vaccine, and the county also offers the vaccine to day care centers for free.

Myers encourages everyone to get vaccinated, however.

“I don't want people to rely on youngsters. They need to take personal responsibility and get vaccinated,” Myers said, adding that it's not too late to get vaccinated, even though the flu season has started four to five weeks earlier this year in its 12-week cycle.

“Flu season is far from over,” said Pam Thornton, ER nurse director at North Florida Regional Medical Center. She added that cases usually taper off by the end of March.

Trina Girimont, the director of Shands Occupational Health Services, said peak season in Gainesville is just around the corner, now that students have returned for the spring semester. Also, retirees wintering in Florida might bring it south, she said.

“It's those people in the Northeast that like to come to Florida in January and February. I think people forget that a boost in cases here is only a plane ride away.”

NFRMC already has seen a rise in flu cases at the ER.

“There's been quite an uptick in flu symptoms and upper respiratory issues,” Thornton said. The week before Christmas, the hospital saw about eight cases, and now this week, it has had 16-17, she said.

NFMRC requires all employees to get the vaccine, and provides it to their family members as well. Shands at the University of Florida employees get vaccinated unless they are medically exempt, and Girimont said Shands has had a 40 percent increase in the number of vaccines given to employees this year. She had a shortage of the vaccine but was able to get a new order within a couple of days.

Some CVS stores have reported shortages of the vaccine, but those affected are borrowing from other CVS stores in the area, said a spokesperson for the 16 CVS stores in the district, 12 of which are in Gainesville. The MinuteClinic inside the CVS at 3404 SW Archer Road carries the vaccine, as do all Walgreens stores.

NRFMC's Express Care is offering the vaccine for $20, and the DOH will provide vaccinations at the health department Tuesday and Wednesday.

According to the CDC, the vaccine is 60 percent effective in preventing the flu.

“Even if it doesn't prevent you from getting the flu, you won't get a really bad case of it,” said Laura Netardus, infectious control nurse at NFRMC.

Symptoms include high fever, sore throat and body ache. “Some people can't get out of bed for several days,” said Netardus, adding that a bad case can morph into pneumonia.

Bed rest is the best cure, Girimont added, even though some people do take Tamiflu and Relenza to help relieve their symptoms.

“For the most people, influenza is going to run its course. It's not a reason to run to the emergency room — unless they have a really high fever or a pre-existing heart disease,” Girimont said, adding that 101.5 is considered a high fever.

“For the most part, if you're sick, stay home.”

Thornton noted that apart from getting vaccinated, preventing the spread of germs is the best measure against the flu.

“I love watching little kids — they've learned you don't cough into your hand because you touch other things, so they cough into their elbow or sleeve,” she said.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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