'Just totally unexpected': Unseasonal surge in flu cases leaves many Tampa Bay kids sick

Flu activity across the state is on the rise with cases spiking locally. The unexpected and unseasonal surge in flu cases is making many kids in the Tampa Bay area sick.

"What we're seeing now is just totally unexpected, not something that we've seen before," said Dr. Juan Dumois, a Pediatric Infectious Diseases Physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Dumois said flu cases are sharply climbing. Across the state, there was an increase in positivity in December and January when flu normally peaks, but over the last two months sicknesses have skyrocketed.

"We are seeing a lot of children who come in with fever, achiness, scratchy throat, or cough," Dumois said.

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He said for the entire month of March, 15 children came through the emergency room with the flu. That's compared to 704 kids testing positive at the hospital in just the first three weeks of this month.

"Most of those children are not sick enough to be hospitalized," said Dumois.  "Most of those children have not been immunized for the flu."

It is an alarming trend at a time when flu numbers usually go down. The virus isn't typically on parents’ minds as the school year is wrapping up.

According to the Florida Department of Health, most counties are reporting mild flu activity that is increasing. In Pinellas and Manatee counties, influenza activity is moderate, and Polk County alone shows elevated flu activity.

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Flu outbreaks are also popping up all around the state. FDOH data shows most of the outbreaks have been reported in primary or secondary schools and daycares.

"It is possible to push back against this huge spike in flu cases," Dumois said.

It is not clear exactly what is driving this uptick, and it's likely a combination of factors. Doctors said fewer kids got the flu shot this year, and now that masks and social distancing have been ditched, more germs are circulating.

"One thing that I’ve learned during the pandemic over the last two years is that human behavior has a huge effect on the normal seasonality of viruses," said Dumois.

Experts recommend you get the flu vaccine, be vigilant about washing your hands, and wear a mask around people who are sick and strangers.

Influenza is most dangerous for children with asthma and other underlying issues, those under two years, and especially those younger than six months.