Florida health officials said it's been a mild flu season so far, unlike the last three seasons when doctor offices were filled with patients before Christmas and illnesses peaked by late December.
In the Tampa Bay area, there have only been a couple cases reported so far, said Steve Huard with the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County.
That aligns with nationwide flu numbers, he said.
“It really is off to sort of a slow start” compared to that recent history,” said Lynnette Brammer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts are still puzzled why flu became epidemic so early the past few years. Factors might include the weather and what kind of flu bug was spreading the most, said Dr. John Treanor, a flu vaccine researcher at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.
Brammer said so far this year, there’s a mix of flu viruses making people sick. In bad seasons, one nasty strain dominates. And last year, the flu vaccine didn’t work very well for the bug that caused most of the illnesses. This year’s version was changed.
The delayed season means there’s more time for people to get vaccinated, Brammer said.
Aside from getting a flu vaccine, Huard recommends practicing what he calls “proper cough etiquette.”
"(People) cough into their hand and then put it down. or (they) just cough into the air and give you the opportunity to breathe it in," Huard said. "Proper cough etiquette is not into your hand, it's into the bend of your elbow."
Huard expects the number of flu cases reported by hospitals and doctors will increase after the New Year.
He said family gatherings and cooler weather are usually to blame.
Using mathematical modeling, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory this week predicted there’s a 57 percent chance this flu season will peak in February, and a 67 percent chance it will continue to be mild.