While most of Ohio is experiencing a spike in the number of influenza cases, that’s not the case in southern Ohio. Still, Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner says it is likely only a matter of time.
“Sometimes, in rural places we don’t test people as often as some metropolitan places, so we don’t see as many lab-confirmed cases pop up,” Warner said. “And sometimes the flu hits in one place quicker than another. But it usually evens out.”
According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), data sources indicate increasing activity for influenza-like illnesses. The ODH said that in the first week of January, there were 287 new confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations in Ohio compared to 157 the week before. Those figures increased to 317 for the second week of January, 325 for the third week of January and 395 for the fourth week of January.
The ODH statistics break the state into seven regions, with Highland County figured into the South West Region. For the last three weeks of January, the ODH statistics show the East Central Region with 346 confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations, the North East Region with 223, the Central Region 136, North West Region 105, West Central Region 105, South West Region 70 and South East Region 49.
Highland District Hospital has had 21 confirmed flu cases since October, including seven in January, according to Kelly Tolle, HDH director of nursing.
A call to Adena Greenfield Medical Center seeking figures was not returned.
Warner, meanwhile, said that regardless of the numbers, the flu is out there, and strongly advised local residents to get a flu shot.
“They still have time,” Warner said. “People need to get their flu shot because it takes a little time for the shot to take effect. Now is the time to do it. The flu may not make you really sick, but if you have a grandparent or other family member that catches the flu from you, it can be really serious. The flu really does kill people. It can be a really serious problem for people with underlying conditions.”
Flu season in Ohio generally lasts from October to May, with hospitalizations typically peaking between December and February, the ODH said in a news release.
“Influenza vaccination is the safest and most effective way to prevent the flu, except for infants younger than 6 months old who aren’t eligible to receive it,” said Sietske de Fijter, chief of the Bureau of Infectious Diseases and state epidemiologist for the ODH. “Vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits and missed work and school.”
While vaccination provides the greatest protection against the flu, the ODH said other effective ways to avoid getting or spreading it include: washing hands frequently or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer; covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, or coughing or sneezing into elbows; avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth; and staying home when sick and until fever-free for 24 hours without using fever-reducing medication.
Symptoms of influenza can include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Flu vaccination is available at most health care providers’ offices, local health departments and retail pharmacies.
“There are no flu vaccine shortages across Ohio,” de Fijter said. “The short time it will take to get a flu vaccine is much less than the time it will take you to recover from the flu.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that clinicians administer one of two prescription antiviral drugs as a second line of defense as soon as possible to patients with confirmed or suspected influenza who are hospitalized, have severe illness, or may be at higher risk for flu complications. Patients who could benefit from them include children younger than 2 years old; adults 65 and older; people with chronic medical conditions including asthma, heart disease, or weakened immune systems; pregnant women; American Indians/Alaska natives; and people who are morbidly obese.
“These antiviral medications can reduce the severity of the flu and prevent serious flu complications,” de Fijter said. “They work best when started within two days of getting sick.”
More information about influenza and flu activity in Ohio is available at www.flu.ohio.gov.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.