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Here's why everyone in Tampa Bay seems to be getting the flu

Doctors say a combination of reasons have left our region with an influenza outbreak.

TAMPA, Fla. -- If you or someone you know has not gotten the flu this year, consider yourself lucky.

State health officials say Tampa Bay is now among the hardest-hit regions in the state when it comes to the influenza virus this year.

Leon King says it knocked him out for close to three weeks.

“Like a lot of congestion. Ear pains. Chest, back, throat,” he said.

“Everyone I know, pretty much, has gotten it,” said Kristin Wittle, who had actually gotten the flu shot this year.

And Mike Thompson says his office in downtown Tampa has been a ghost town.

“I know about four or five people that I’ve come down with it. And just got back recently from having it,” he said.

At Tampa General Hospital, USF Health specialist Dr. Eli Perez-Colon explained why the flu virus is so widespread this year.

In part, she says, it's because fewer people are getting flu shots. Immunizations are down in the region and across the state, she says.

Watch: Clearing up misconceptions surrounding flu shots

And more people, says Perez-Colon, are returning to the office or classroom too soon.

“You should stay out of work for at least the first five to seven days,” said Perez-Colon.

Travel, she says, is also a factor.

A record number of people went somewhere for the holidays, and some brought the virus home. Tampa Bay is also among the hardest-hit since people travel here to visit.

“You know, we have Disney, which is very close by. We have Busch Gardens, zoos, etc.,” said Perez-Colon.

Add to that, scientists guessed wrong this year about the flu strain covered by the flu shot.

It's still better to have gotten it, however, said Perez-Colon, because it likely reduces the severity symptoms even if you get sick.

“Instead of being 10 days might be five days or so of feeling not too well,” she said.

The flu has also been particularly deadly this year, even among normally healthy adults. So, don't just assume you'll beat it, says Perez-Colon.

If you have shortness of breath, chest pain, or if your flu symptoms go away then come back - get to a doctor.

“You could get secondary infections on top of it, such as pneumonia that is bacterial pneumonia,” said Perez-Colon.

After Thursday's 10News noon newscast, we will have a Facebook live chat with Florida Health Department epidemiologist Michael Wiese to answer questions about the flu outbreak. You can find it on our Facebook page.