Flu season worsens in SW Fla., 20-50 age group affected most

FILE - This Oct. 17, 2012 file photo shows a flu shot administered in Jackson, Miss.  (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

FILE - This Oct. 17, 2012 file photo shows a flu shot administered in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

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— Flu season is moving into its peak, with one death recorded both in Collier and Lee counties and increasing numbers of people ages 20 to 50 years old winding up hospitalized, public health officials said Tuesday.

The flu-related death in Collier County last month was a person between the ages of 20 and 25, said Deb Millsap, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Collier County.

In the past 10 days, three others have been hospitalized in intensive care units, in the 25- to 55-year-old age range, she said.

The flu strain that is prevalent this year is H1N1, which first surfaced in 2009, and is challenging among young- to middle-aged adults who normally are more resistant to flu, she said. Overall, though, flu season is still considered mild but peak season is now to February, she said.

“That age group doesn’t really think it’s going to have a problem with flu,” Millsap said. “It’s just that some cases are becoming more severe.”

In Lee County, there has been one confirmed flu death, said Diane Holm, spokeswoman for the public health department in Lee.

“It is an unusual season in that young people are getting seriously ill with it,” she said.

Most confirmed flu cases are H1N1.

The two public health departments no longer conduct flu vaccination clinics in the community for the public, so there’s no way to gauge if fewer people, particularly within any age group, are getting the vaccine, Millsap said.

Most doctors’ offices and pharmacies are offering the vaccine now.

Still, most of those who are becoming seriously ill from flu didn’t get the vaccine — though it isn’t too late to get the shot, she said.

A national report released by Trust for America’s Health, a Washington, D.C., -based nonprofit that’s focused on fighting epidemics, released a report this month that Florida’s immunization rate against flu of 34.1 percent is the lowest in the nation, excluding infants under six months old.

Complicating the matter is a shortage of intravenous solutions, namely sodium chloride, that’s used for hydration in hospitals. The shortage was triggered by increased demand for treating flu patients, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA is working with three major manufacturers to increase production, the FDA said.

At Physicians Regional Healthcare System, which operates hospitals on Pine Ridge Road and Collier Boulevard in Collier County, the shortage has been addressed by using a lower dosage when possible until a back order for the most commonly used dosage could be delivered, hospital spokeswoman Taylor Hamilton said.

“As of last week, the inventory has been filled and we are no longer at a shortage,” she said.

When it comes to flu, Hamilton said hospitals are seeing an increase, especially among younger people. Anyone experiencing shortness of breath, a cough, fever and gastrointestinal distress should seek medical attention, Hamilton said.

The Lee Memorial Health System, with four hospital campuses in Lee County, is seeing peak flu season kicking in and young people age 30 to 50 are being hospitalized and that’s unusual, said Mary Briggs, Lee Memorial’s spokeswoman.

“That is a concern and we don’t know why,” she said.

With regard to saline solution, the Lee Memorial system is monitoring its supplies but the hospitals haven’t experienced a shortage.

“We have a month’s supply,” she said, adding that is the customary stock. Nursing staff has been asked to switch to conservation strategies and to use alternative solutions when possible, Briggs said.

At the NCH Healthcare System, with hospitals off Immokalee Road and near downtown Naples, flu activity has increased this month and has ranged from pediatric patients to adults, NCH spokeswoman Debbie Curry said.

The hospitals are aware of the national shortage of saline solution.

“Purchasing and pharmacy (staff members) are closely monitoring our supplies and continue to work directly with manufacturers to obtain product allocation and to ensure our needs are met,” Curry said.

POSTED EARLIER

Public health officials are advising that the flu season is worsening, especially among younger people age 20 to 50 years old who are winding up sicker than expected in local hospitals.

In Collier, there was a death last month of someone between the ages of 20 and 25, and three more people have been placed in intensive care units, said Deb Millsap, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Collier County. The three people are in the 25 to 55 age range.

The flu strain at issue is H1N1, and the bottom line is people need to get vaccinated, she said.

In Lee County, hospitals likewise are seeing more young people affected and most of the confirmed flu is the H1N1, said Diane Holm, spokeswoman for the Lee public health department.

“It is an unusual season in that young people are getting seriously ill with it,” she said.

Return to naplesnews.com later today for more on this developing story

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