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State health officials cautious as flu deaths on the rise

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Updated: 1/13 11:21 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida health officials are keeping a close eye on the flu as cases continue to increase across the country.

Teresa Bennett has been down and out since traveling north for the holidays.

"It really messes with your brain and you can't think straight. I've had a hard time keeping up with paperwork and even been worried to drive my car. I don't have enough energy to even walk and get my mail or do much of anything."

The stuffy, achey, ear-ringing flu is sweeping the country. According to the CDC 35 states reported widespread cases this week, up from 10 states the week prior.

Florida has only regional outbreaks so far, but the Florida Department of Health says 177 people died of flu or pneumonia related illness last week alone.

A predominate number of cases are from the H1N1 strain that itself caused 523 deaths and more than 9,000 hospitalizations in 2009. The H1N1 strain has never disappeared completely, but doctors say it hasn't been this bad since then.

"It's affecting people who normally it doesn't affect," said Dr. Sunil Joshi, and allergist with the Duval County Medical Society.

Joshi said the illness doesn't appear to be worse, but the patient base isn't typical this year.

"Normally the majority of serious cases are in senior or children, but what's alarming now is that people in their 30s and 40s are coming in more and more."

According to the CDC, last week 9.7 percent of hospital patients nationwide were diagnosed with the flu, and more than 60 percent were between the ages of 18 and 65.

Joshi says one problem is resistance of that group to getting a flu shot, and well as the virus morphing to survive the vaccine.

"The virus has adapted a little which means the flu vaccine itself may not have been as effective as it has in the past."

Joshi recommends that any patient with flu symptoms see a doctor within 24 hours, because some medicines are only effective is administered within the first 48 hours.
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