All three of the flu outbreaks that have been reported in Florida so far this season occurred in Hillsborough County, according to the state.
The outbreaks happened in schools or camps within the county, a report from the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Epidemiology said.
A fourth outbreak of a flu-like respiratory virus occurred in Escambia County, in the Panhandle.
Experts say it’s too early to determine if this year’s flu season will be as deadly as last year’s, when the virus killed 80,000 people in the United States. But they say people should not wait to get vaccinated.
“As we saw last year, flu is a killer virus,” said Richard Webby, who studies infectious diseases at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee. “The vaccine we have does vary in efficacy because these viruses are continually evolving but it does provide protection even in an off year.”
Webby is among a team of scientists who make recommendations about which flu vaccines to use each year.
It's especially important for small children to get the vaccination, he said.
“If you're an adult, chances are you have been infected with the virus a number of times and you've built up a little bit of an immunity yourself,” Webby said. “But those young kids don't have any of that immunity so they can be at higher risk of more severe complications after getting infected.”
A child became the first flu death in Florida this season. The child, who was not identified, had not been vaccinated, the Bureau of Epidemiology reported. The child’s location and age were not released but a report from the state said the child died between Sept. 30 and Oct. 6.
Each year, the virus kills tens of thousands of people and most of them are elderly or have underlying health conditions. But that doesn’t mean healthy people shouldn’t get vaccinated, Webby said.
“Someone who is healthy can infect those who are most at risk,” he said. “If you get vaccinated, it’s anticipated that you will be less likely to transmit the virus to other people.”
During any flu season, between 30 and 50 percent of the population gets infected with the flu, Webby said.
Most of the outbreaks occur within school age kids, he said.
“In terms of distributing the virus within a community, the kids are probably the most important population in doing that,” Webby said.
The Florida Department of Health has compiled a list locations where the public can get a free flu shot. Click here to view the list.