Photo courtesy of UCF Student Health Services Facebook.

The Florida Department of Health issued a statement Thursday urging all unvaccinated residents to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible.

The advisory warned that flu levels in Florida have increased as of Week 52 of the season and are higher than levels recorded at this time last year.

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Influenza is a contagious virus that can spread rapidly in our communities and cause severe illness,” said Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees. “Getting vaccinated is the best way to avoid the flu; it reduces the spread of the virus and can also help make illnesses less severe for those who do still get sick.”

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Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least 6.4 million flu cases in the 2019-2020 season, with roughly 55,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 2,900 flu-related deaths. 

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Photo courtesy of the CDC.

Flu shots can take up to two weeks to become fully effective, so it’s important to get vaccinated as soon as possible to reduce your chances of getting the flu this season,” the CDC website states.

The Florida Department of Health has reported three flu-related deaths in unvaccinated children this season alone.

Health officials said children, pregnant women and adults older than 65 are at higher risk for contracting the virus.

“With this year’s flu season in full swing, it is critical that adults and children get the flu vaccine not just to protect themselves, but to help prevent infection in others,” said Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez. “By getting a flu shot now, you will protect yourself, as well as your family and friends.”

UCF students with a student ID are eligible for free flu shots at Student Health Services. No appointment is necessary, according to the Student Health Services website.

In addition to annual vaccinations, health officials encourage good hygiene practices — like washing your hands often, and covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing — to help prevent the spread of the flu and other illnesses.