HOLMES AND WASHINGTON COUNTIES -- Holmes and Washington counties have managed to sidestep deaths caused by what some are calling one of the deadliest strains of influenza the nation has seen. However, health officials say individuals should continue to safeguard themselves from the H3N2 flu.

"H3N2 is particularly worse than the typical seasonal flu because it has avian, swine and human DNA," said Karen Johnson, health administrator at Florida Department of Health in Washington and Holmes counties."H3N2 can be transmitted from swine to humans, just like a normal human to human transmission through droplets, sneezes and coughs."

As the typical seasonal flu, symptoms of H3N2 include: fever, cough, running nose, and possibly, body aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

According to the U.S. National Library of Science, H3N2 has its pandemic beginnings in the late 1960s in Hong Kong, causing one to four million deaths.

The recent outbreak has caused more than a hundred deaths nationwide, hitting California hardest with 42 deaths, according to local reports. Two children in Florida have died from the virus.

Johnson noted that death statistics for the flu are hard to find since only pediatric deaths are reported. It was not immediately clear how many individuals locally had contracted the virus. The season typically peaks in December and February.

With the majority of vaccines being administered at drug stores and doctors offices, and local health departments providing more than 100 adults and children with vaccine, health officials continue to struggle to make the vaccine effective.

"Another key characteristic that makes H3N2 difficult is its mutation rate," Johnson said. She added: "In general, the flu virus is always mutating; however, H3N2 mutates so quickly that vaccine makers cannot keep up."

Although the virus is changing, health officials still encourage vaccination, as the season typically ends around March.

In five years working at Northwest Florida Community Hospital, Director of Pharmacy Services Dr. David Eaton said hospital face masks and signs warning against the spread of germs posted at the hospital's entrances is something new.

"We're definitely trying to protect the patients and our visitors," Eaton said Monday afternoon.

"Because of the outbreak, we've taken precautions and put masks at the doors," he said. "And we're asking visitors if they're just not feeling well or feeling flu-like symptoms, to just not visit or ... put on a mask and keep their hands sanitized."

"Hands hygiene is about the best thing you can do to stop the spread," he added.

Eaton noted the virus can be transmitted from inanimate objects, such as, door handles. Individuals could then contract the virus by touching their mouths or noses.

To prevent the spread of the virus, individuals should wash their hands frequently with warm water and soap, officials said. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer may substitute soap and water. Avoid contact with sick individuals and disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated with germs.

For more information, contact the health department: Holmes County, 603 Scenic Circle Bonifay, call 850-547-8500; in Washington County, 1338 South Blvd., 850-638-6240.