MANATEE -- Like most of the nation, Manatee County has seen a sudden increase in influenza cases over the past month.
"In the last three or four weeks or so they've started coming in," said Eric Folkens, doctor and owner of Urgent Care offices in Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota. "It seemed like (Tuesday), everyone we tested was positive."
Folkens said people visiting from the north were the first to visit the clinics with symptoms, but it is now spreading to local residents.
"All ages, children all the way to elderly, whole families in fact," Folkens said.
The most common strain seen this year has been Type A influenza. Folkens said symptoms include headaches, body aches, cough, sore throat and high fevers, instead of the usual nausea and diarrhea.
"People just need to take it seriously and realize it is a serious disease that really can cause problems," Folkens said, adding that those with the flu are more susceptible to other bacterial infections.
Another issue with this year's flu is that many pharmacies are experiencing shortages of medicine, Folkens said.
"We've been having problems getting some medicines
refilled," he said. "If someone in the family has the flu, you can give half a dose of medicine to a person not infected (for prevention). Unfortunately some pharmacies run out, especially of the pediatric liquid."
Locally owned Palmetto Drug Mart, 907 10th St. E., has seen an increase in prescriptions, said pharmacist Vikram Rao.
"The worst thing is a lot of people can't find the medicine and end up not taking the medicine, and that spreads the flu even further," Rao said. "We have a way to satisfy all the needs our clients have, even if there are shortages of the pediatric liquid. So far we have not experienced any issues or had to decline a patient."
Unlike many pharmacies depending on the premade pediatric liquid formula that is now on back-order at numerous locations, Palmetto Drug Mart orders a powder base in bulk at the beginning of flu season. The pharmacy is able to mix the pediatric liquid on site when needed, Rao said.
Medicine isn't the only necessity in short supply this flu season. Another is blood.
"Usage is up because of flu complications and donors are not coming in because they're ill," said Jayne Giroux, director of communications for Suncoast Communities Blood Bank. "We're hit very hard. You have to be in tip-top health (to give) -- not even a mild sore throat. We don't take any chances."
Giroux said the community is especially in need of rare and negative blood types.
Those who have not experienced the flu this year are advised to get a flu vaccine or booster if they have not recently received the shot.
"The vaccination we give includes the A strain and most of the strains in circulation," said Ron Cox, director of epidemiology at the Manatee County Health Department. "The Center for Disease Control is telling us the vaccine that has been in circulation is a good match for the strains of flu they are expecting."
To prevent getting the virus, people should practice good hand-washing, cover their nose and mouth when sneezing and wear a mask if around someone diagnosed with the flu. Those with symptoms should seek medical treatment and then stay home to recover, officials said.
The flu season spans from October or November to March or April.
"It's not too late," Cox said.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.