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CDC: Flu now ‘widespread’ in FL

9/9/2009 © Health News Florida

Florida has passed an unhappy milestone in the H1N1 “swine flu” fight, becoming one of just six states where flu activity is “widespread.” The change can be seen on the map posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The previous CDC map had shown Florida with only “regional” flu activity, meaning there were hotspots but they affected fewer than half the state’s regions.

The change in status is no cause for alarm, said Susan Smith, spokeswoman for Florida DOH.

“We’re seeing exactly what we expected to see,” she said. “We attribute that to schools starting back.”

Schools offer the virus a convenient locus for rapid spread. Southern schools begin in August, while other regions typically wait until after Labor Day. In addition to Florida and Puerto Rico, the CDC map shows widespread activity in Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina.

Florida has already reached the top category in the flu watch weeks before a vaccine will be ready, probably in October. Smith said county health departments will distribute it rapidly when it arrives.

“We are prepared,” she said.

Today's DOH update will show 77 Floridians have died from the novel virus, Smith said. More information will be available later today on county, gender and age.

As of Sept. 4, CDC reported more than 9,000 hospitalizations and almost 600 deaths nationally. Three-fourths had underlying health conditions, and half were among adults ages 25 to 49, an unusual target group for influenza. But H1N1 is unusual in many ways; usually flu season doesn’t begin until late autumn, which is when the so-called "seasonal" flu is expected to return. Vaccines are available for seasonal flu now. 

Even though Miami-Dade has registered more hospitalizations by far than other counties in Florida, as of this morning the DOH Web site did not yet list it among the counties where the flu meets the definition of "widespread." They are Duval, Hillsborough, Orange, Sarasota and St. John’s. 

Smith stressed that the best weapon against spread of the flu is good hygiene: Cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands frequently, and stay home if you're sick. 

More information is available at the Florida Flu Information Line, 1-888-352-3581, and the Web site: www.MyFluSafety.com.