Tampa, Florida -- It's the earliest start of a flu season in a decade, and the CDC says it could be a really rough one.
First, three shots of good news:
- About a third of all Americans have already been vaccinated against the flu for this season.
- The vaccine seems to be pretty effective against the influenza strains that are going around.
- And Florida is not one of the states that has seen a spike in suspected cases so far this year.
Here's the bad part: we're practically surrounded. The states seeing a jump in flu reports are Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.
Those states are reporting cases in numbers we don't usually see until after Christmas.
More trouble: the particular flu strain that's most common this season often leads to more severe illnesses, especially in elderly people.
USF's Dr. Jose Montero works at Tampa General Hospital on Davis Islands. He says there's concern a regional spike in cases now will hurt the whole country in the middle of January because travel around Christmas will spread the virus far and wide.
What can you do?
Seriously consider getting the flu vaccine. The flu shot cannot actually give you the flu -- everything inside it is dead. The Centers for Disease Control says bad reactions to the shot are very rare.
So why do some people seem to get the flu after they get the shot? Dr. Montero says it's simple. The flu shot takes about two weeks to kick in and offer you protection.
If you're exposed to the flu, say, five days after you get the shot, you won't yet have the protection of the vaccine working to fight off the infection -- so there's a decent chance you'll come down with the flu.
Sometimes, it's a case of someone getting a different infection with similar flulike symptoms.
More protection tips:
- Wash your hands a lot and keep moisturizer around so the washing and dry winter air don't dry out your skin.
- Cover your cough; lots of kids in school are taught to cough into their elbow -- that way they don't get the virus all over their hands.
- And if you're sick, go ahead and stay home.
Grayson Kamm, 10 News