Florida is a major player in widespread influenza reported in 43 states so far this season.
Levels of transmission have reached epidemic proportions, according to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials say that a mutation in the flu virus may be to blame for the rising number of flu cases this year.
A slight change in the flu virus may be partially responsible for the increased flu activity this season, said Dr. David Berman, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at All Children's Hospital in St Petersburg.
"And then when you do see this what you tend to see is more severe disease and more children hospitalized or even older adults hospitalized with severe illness," he said.
Since the start of the season, 21 children have lost their lives to the flu. Three of them were in Florida, including an 11-year-old boy in Bradenton who died last month after experiencing complications related to the disease. The other children died in late November, in Orange and Pasco Counties, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Berman says that the flu can be dangerous every year, so it's important to take precautions.
"You can have sometimes a mild illness with influenza which may keep you from going to work or going to school and you'll end up at home sick and other family members will get sick and it's an inconvenience," he said, " but many times you'll end up in an emergency room and many times you will end up hospitalized."
According to the CDC, flu seasons can be very unpredictable, and it is not unusual for changes in the virus to occur. However, Berman says that despite the changes in the virus this season, getting vaccinated is still the best way to prevent yourself or others from getting sick.
--Health News Florida intern Megan Milanese is part of WUSF Public Media in Tampa. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.