Officials: Tampa Bay area tourists are contributing to the local flu epidemic

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – This deadly flu season has doctors working overtime while the community is on edge. But officials point out two problem hot spots contributing to the local epidemic: hotels and airports.

Local hotels are booking up fast during the peak of snowbird season. But with all those visitors coming from all those cold climates, it’s easy to see why flu cases are spiking locally.

Inside the Regency Inn and Suites, they’re not taking any chances.

“I really gotta focus on making sure all the germs and stuff out the bathroom and everything,” said one housekeeper.

The hotel serves guests from around the world and manager Jon Baugh keeps a close eye on their health. He saw one that was sick this week.

“I noticed he wasn’t looking [good] and I was like, ‘dude you alright?’ And he was like, ‘no.’ And he got pretty sick,” said Baugh.

He reminds guests to be cautious this time of year, while in the meantime, his housekeepers thoroughly scrub each room. A team of four housekeepers spend a minimum of 20 minutes cleaning every room.

Tourists may be contributing to the local flu crisis. Sarasota Memorial Hospital reports the number of flu cases have tripled compared to last year.

Officials say hotel rooms are a culprit. If not cleaned properly, germs can remain for days on things like remotes, light switches and even hotel pens. Airports and airplanes are especially problematic.

“I really do not like to sit next to someone who’s coughing but I don’t really have much control over that,” said traveler Carrick Inabnett.

The flu virus can be found in departure gates and cramped airplanes can spread viruses too. Travelers are aware of the risks.

“Washing my hands, not sharing newspapers back and forth and just covering up,” said traveler Eric Leininger.

The local economy loves tourists but we’d all prefer that they don’t bring the flu with them.

Officials say this year, the flu vaccine has only been 17 percent effective against the virus. So keep your hands clean, use cleaning products and ask your hotel about their cleaning procedures.

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