TAMPA, Fla. — In December, two children had died from the flu in Florida. Halfway through the month of January, that number has doubled. 

Local pediatricians say we are dealing with a particularly nasty flu virus this year, and in the past 24 hours it has sent an unusual number of kids to the emergency room.

“Think we could be looking at something much larger,” said Clearwater pediatrician Greg Savel.

This year's flu outbreak has pediatricians like Dr. Savel even more worried than usual. As a result of so many outbreaks so early in the season, he says doctors have already revised the number of flu-related deaths they expect to see this season. It has gone up from about 125,000 this year to 175,000 nationwide.

The flu is already being blamed for the deaths of four children in Florida this season, and in Pinellas County, an outbreak has sent an unusual number of children to the emergency room.

“Several kids were admitted to All Children’s Hospital in the ICU yesterday with flu,”  Dr. Seval says. “So, it has been a particularly strong strain and much earlier in the season.”

Health experts say with record warm weather, the flu virus should have a tougher time spreading. But, that same warm weather is attracting tourists who can carry strains of flu to our area. 

“People from all over the world who’ve got a dollar and a week off come here to paradise, bringing their germs from all over the world, increasing our flu reach dramatically,” says Dr. Seval.

Dr. Savel says it’s not too late to have children immunized. Unfortunately, he says, every pediatric flu death reported so far this year in Florida. And, the majority of kids brought to the local emergency rooms have not been vaccinated.

“Most of the people who get the sickest from the flu never had the vaccine,” says Dr. Seval. “And all of those people who get extremely sick didn’t have the vaccine. So, the vaccine can still help.”

Dr. Savel hopes parents who’ve been on the fence about getting their kids immunized will take the deadly outbreak seriously.

In homes with babies too young to be vaccinated, it’s important, he says that parents and young siblings get their shots to protect those who can’t be immunized.

It’s a responsibility all of us, he said, share.

“We have to protect them. It’s all that idea of herd immunity,” Dr. Seval says. “You immunize 95-percent of the population and that disease is eradicated.”

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