The county is not out of the woods yet.

The county is not out of the woods yet.

The typical flu season for the area begins in September, peaks in January and February and begins to taper off shortly thereafter.

The National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that influenza and influenza-like illness levels have increased nationwide, particularly in the Southeast region.

While flu levels have been minimal in Florida, 21 counties reported increasing influenza activity within the past week but in no county has the reported cases reached outbreak levels.

Even with mild flu activity in the panhandle, in Gulf and Franklin counties, 42 patients have tested positive for the current H1N1 type-A strain which has predominantly circulated throughout the state.

In Gulf and Franklin, more than 900 vaccines have been administered so far this season. The current vaccine includes protection against this strain and several others.

In recent weeks the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) received reports of severe influenza illness, including hospitalizations requiring intensive care unit care, among pregnant women.

This season, nine pregnant women have died from the flu nationwide, none of which had received the vaccine.

In Gulf and Franklin counties the FDOH has waived vaccine fees for pregnant women and will continue to do so for the remainder of the season.

According to the FDOH, it is especially important for pregnant women to be vaccinated due to the increased risk of complications associated with contracting the flu while pregnant.

The flu vaccination is safe and will protect the mother, the unborn child, and will also help protect babies during the first months after birth.

Only one pediatric influenza-associated death has been reported in Florida in the 2013-2014 season.

Marsha Lindeman, FDOH Administrator for Gulf and Franklin counties said that she was proud that the FDOH had successfully vaccinated 25 percent of students in Wewahitchka and Port St. Joe Elementary Schools.

“Schools have been a priority for us for the past three years,” said Lindeman. “Our strategy is to provide protection from the flu not only for the children, but also their families here in Gulf County.”

To stay on top of the illness, the FDOH uses a nationwide system called ILINet (influenza-like illness), a surveillance system composed of sentinel providers. In Florida, 102 enrolled providers send weekly results that consist of total visits of patients with flu-like symptoms, and send specimens to the Bureau of Epidemiology for testing.

This system looks out for increases in areas where coughing, fever and sore throat become a chief symptom and FDOH workers can ensure that vaccines are made available in areas and public awareness can be raised.

“We have plenty of vaccine,” said Lindeman. “Any protection is better than being unprotected.

 “This strain is dangerous to the very young and very old.”

Flu shorts are still being offered at the Health Department, CVS and from area physicians. Additional flu prevention steps include washing your hands often, keeping your hands away from your face and covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing and coughing.