Health officials warn of rise in South Florida flu cases

MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - The fight to combat the flu is heating up in the Sunshine State, and health officials caution things could get worse before they get better.

Speaking to 7News on the phone, Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said they are facing a health challenge.

“This is a very difficult season,” she said.

The current flu season, which usually peaks in February, does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

“It’s everywhere,” said Dr. Clifford Medina from Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach. “In fact, it’s been reported in all the states throughout the U.S., and it’s in epidemic proportions.”

In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, hospitalizations for the flu are on the rise, with more checking into emergency rooms this past week over the last, statewide.

“The hospitalization rate is the highest that we’ve seen,” said Schuchat. “We aren’t out of the woods yet.”

The latest reports show Miami-Dade County is seeing a moderate level of flu complications reported, while Broward County is mild. However, the activity is increasing as a whole in South Florida.

The 2017-18 flu season strain, H3N2, is taking lives. Health officials said the vaccine for the main strain is moderately effective, but many are contracting Influenza B, or the H1N1 virus, which has also proven deadly.

Health officials advised residents to pay attention to symptoms and go to a doctor.

“High fever is one of them,” said Medina. “Also, patients will complain of headache, body aches, fatigue.”

While those 65 and older, as well as pregnant women, are at a higher risk, in the state of Florida so far, five children have lost their lives because of flu complications — two in just the past week.

Twelve-year-old Dylan Winnik from Coral Springs became one of the virus’ victims.

“Shocking. You get a call that he’s passed,” said family friend Mike Medwin. “How the hell does that happen.”

Winnik’s family said they believed their otherwise healthy, athletic boy was dealing with a cold. Just hours after complaining of a fever and body aches, he passed away.

“If there’s any doubt, don’t waste time,” said Medina. “Call your pediatrician. Call your primary care physician.”

Nationwide, 53 children have died because of the virus this season, 16 this past week. Officials only nly 20 percent of those victims had been vaccinated.

And health officials said the virus has yet to hit its peak. “Most seasons last up to 20 weeks, and we’ve probably got several weeks left of increased flu activity,” said Schuchat.

Health officials advised residents to get the flu shot if they haven’t done so already.

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