BRADENTON -- Bradenton's Ladawn Edwards has the flu.
The 27-year-old is far from alone.
Edwards, who works at Children's Academy on 26th Street West, is one of the nearly 300 patients who have come daily for the past week for treatment at Manatee Memorial Hospital -- many because of what is being called a flu epidemic in Florida, said Dr. Teresa Rawe, medical director for emergency services at Manatee Memorial.
"Our emergency department volume has skyrocketed," Rawe said Friday. "On average, we see 210 patients a day. We have averaged 291 this past week. It's not entirely from the flu, but the flu has been a contributing factor."
Symptoms of the flu include headache, fever, severe cough, sore throat, runny nose or body aches.
On Friday afternoon, a coughing Edwards had a green mask on her face so she would not pass germs. She was receiving liquids intravenously because remaining hydrated helps the body fight infections, Rawe said.
"I thought my runny nose and sneezing was just an allergy, then my cough got worse," Edwards whispered from her bed.
"I began to throw up. My chest got tight."
Edwards was going to try to ride it out at home, but her grandmother, Georgia Edwards, insisted she go to the hospital. Edwards said she is glad now that she did.
"I think it's important to get checked out," Edwards said.
Patients who have these symptoms and who are not having shortness of breath or problems keeping down liquids and who have a caretaker at home can probably avoid the hospital, Rawe said.
"My best advice is supportive care, Tylenol or Motrin, and hydration," Rawe said. "But if they have shortness of breath or can't hydrate, then there might be a need to see their health provider or our emergency department."
The term "epidemic" does not describe the severity of the flu, but rather how widespread it is, said Dr. Jennifer Bencie, administrator for the Manatee County Department of Health.
"This statement of epidemic comes from the Centers for Disease Control's surveillance on pneumonia and influenza-related mortalities," Bencie said Friday. "The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza is at what the CDC defines as the epidemic threshold, or 6.8% of all deaths."
Florida is currently at its normal rate of pneumonia and influenza deaths, but influenza activity in Florida is above levels seen during previous years at this time, Bencie said.
"Influenza activity is highest in children and, overall, is widespread throughout Florida," Bencie added. "Manatee County is seeing the same increase in influenza activity that Florida and the United States is seeing."
Another problem this year is that the flu strain contained in the current flu vaccine is not the same as the one currently infecting many people.
"The CDC has identified a strain of influenza A (H3N2) circulating nationally and in Florida, that is different from the strain of influenza A(H3N2) contained in the current 2014-2015 influenza vaccine," Bencie said. "However, there are several flu strains circulating. The flu vaccine fully covers all but one circulating strain and provides mild protection against that strain."
Flu season starts in the fall and typically peaks in January or February, Bencie said.
"This is why it is not too late to get a flu shot," Bencie said.
Flu shots will continue to be offered at the Manatee County Health Department for the duration of flu season, which ends in May.
"The flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu and it is important that you are vaccinated annually," Bencie said. "Additionally, you can help prevent the spread of flu and other viruses by staying home from work or school when sick, covering your coughs and sneezes, and washing your hands frequently."
Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including DOH-Manatee, doctor's offices, clinics, retail stores, pharmacies, health centers and by many employers and schools. Check with a physician, or visit www.floridahealth.gov/prevention-safety-and-wellness/flu-prevention/locate-a-flu-shot.html to search for a location to receive a flu vaccine.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or via Twitter@RichardDymond.