MIAMI
01/10/2013 10:43 am ET Updated Mar 12, 2013

Flu Miami: Florida Outbreak 'Widespread,' Miami Activity 'Intense' According To Google

Miami is freaking out about the flu -- and who can blame us?

Google's Flu Trends tracker shows both Miami and Hialeah are two areas in which activity is "intense," its highest ranking of aggregated search data.

"We've found that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity," the search giant notes. "We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms." (If you'd like to be terrified, check out Google's nationwide map.)

But Google graphs are just the coolest way of tracking how swift and vicious this year's flu has come on. Another is factual: the nationwide outbreak has already caused the deaths of at least 18 children -- one in central Florida and one in the Panhandle -- and clogged emergency rooms in many states. The Centers for Disease Control reports Florida is among 41 states reporting "widespread outbreaks."

According to the Miami Herald, the last time Florida's rate of flu visits to emergency rooms and clinics was this high was during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, which was blamed for 230 deaths across the state. State data shows nearly 6 percent of visits to the 17 largest ERs in Miami-Dade for the week ending Dec. 30 were for flu, reports NBC6.

"Cases have probably doubled or tripled, just in the past week alone," said Memorial Healthcare System's Dr. Cory Spurlock. According to the Florida Department of Health, the entire South Florida region is showing higher than expected ILI (influenza-like illness) activity in emergency departments, while 38 counties are reporting increasing flu activity.

Still, FDOH's Aaron Keller told HuffPost that while "there is a lot of flu in the state," the "widespread" label is more about geography. The department is promoting the usual preventative steps for the flu, including frequent handwashing and encouraging those feeling ill to stay home from work.

That's easier said than done for some. A recent study from advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers-United Miami found nearly half of restaurant workers in the county admit having worked while sick -- and 40 percent of those admitted coughing or sneezing while handling food. Seventy-four percent of those who did work sick said they could not afford to take the day off without pay.

Adult flu shots are available at the Miami-Dade County Health Department for $25. Call 786-845-0550 for adult immunizations, or check flushot.healthmap.org for a nearby provider.

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