The flu is out in force. And so far this season, it’s been hitting children the hardest

Now is the time to get an immunization if you haven’t already.

There have been at least 6.4 million cases of the flu nationwide so far this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 55,000 of these resulted in hospitalizations and 2,900 resulted in death.

Over 200 flu and pneumonia deaths were reported statewide between Dec. 29 and Jan. 4, according to the health department.

“We are entering peak season for activity,” said Charlotte County Health Officer Joseph Pepe. “So far this season, we have only seen sporadic cases in our area.”

For the past two weeks, influenza activity has decreased statewide, but is still above levels at this time in previous years, and above peak activity levels observed in the 2016-2017 and 2018-2019 seasons.

The peak may have even come earlier this year, according to Sarasota County’s disease intervention services program manager Michael Drennon. “There has been an increase in visits to local Emergency Rooms, higher than we have seen in recent years,” he said. “This may indicate a peak earlier than normal,” with Sarasota reaching its peak typically in February.

However, the Florida Flu Review said it is too early to tell if activity has peaked yet for the season and elevated activity is still expected for several more weeks.

Roughly 5% of emergency department and urgent care visits statewide last week were for the flu and flu-like illnesses, according to the Florida Department of Health. The highest this has gotten in the past four years was about 11% of all visits around Jan. 28, 2018.

“With this year’s flu season in full swing, it is critical that adults and children get the flu vaccine to protect against infection and help prevent the spread of seasonal flu to others,” said Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez. “By getting a flu shot now, you will protect yourself, as well as your family and friends.”

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to avoid the flu,” said the Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees. “It reduces the spread of the virus and can also help make illnesses less severe for those who do still get sick.”

The Charlotte County Department of Health administered 1,122 doses of the flu vaccine last year, and 20 so far this year, according to spokesperson Meranda Pitt.

In Charlotte, less than half of the adult population gets a flu shot, according to Florida Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System data from 2016.

Meanwhile, 65% of Sarasota County adults and 59% of DeSoto County adults got the flu shot that year.

Anyone 6-months and older can get the flu shot, including pregnant women. Those most at risk for suffering more severe symptoms from the flu are young children, pregnant women, people with certain chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or lung disease, and people over the age of 65, the Charlotte County Health Department said in a statement.

After getting the vaccine, it takes approximately two weeks for your body to develop protection against the flu.

Flu viruses evolve quickly, so the CDC recommends getting a shot annually.

“Last year’s vaccine may not protect against the current year’s strain,” the health department said in a statement. “Even if the vaccine does not fully protect against the flu, it may reduce the severity of symptoms and the risk of complications.”

And flu vaccines are virtually anywhere: schools, pharmacies, clinics, county health departments and more.

To find a flu vaccine, visit www.VaccineFinder.org or call 941-624-7200.

If you do become sick, it is just as important to stay home to contain the virus from further spreading.

Good health habits like washing your hands and covering your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing can also help stop the spread of germs. Also disinfect commonly used surfaces in your home, school or office like your phone, computer, kitchen table, and television remote.

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