By DIANA SHARP
Feeling run-down or under the weather? Don’t be surprised if you may be coming down with the flu. According to those in the know, they say the flu season has arrived in Ohio.
Many of our readers may be familiar with symptoms associated with seasonal influenza virus, i.e. fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, etc.. In fact with the extreme temperatures, one may have assumed these symptoms were due to sessions of shoveling drive and walk-ways over the past few weeks. However, according to local hospitals and those that track the frequency of influenza’s spread, the numbers are on the rise.
“We are definitely seeing an increase,” explained Mary Derr, Epidemiologist and Public Health Nurse Supervisor for the Mansfield, Ontario, Richland County Health Department. “Area hospitals are compelled to report to the Department numbers of hospitalizations resulting from influenza.
Flu season typically may kick-off as early as October and run as late as March. It is an airborne illness that may be spread by coughing and/or sneezing.
“In December, we had four hospitalizations and one out of town admit,” stated Derr. She added, “Providers, Pediatric offices and rapid response also report flu tests to us. In December, we had 63 A’s and 1 B, compared with November 28 A’s and 3 B’s. So we are in peak season. I’m guessing (based on past years) that this will continue for a few weeks. Last year the numbers started dropping in February.”
According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) website, most recover from the flu in a few weeks. The ODH says influenza activity is now widespread across the state with the highest number of flu-related hospitalizations in northeast and east central Ohio. Caution is advised as complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, may lead to hospitalization and even death.
The good news is many strains of influenza may be prevented by vaccine along with preventative measures that slow the spread of the disease.
Each year the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the institution of Public Health in the US, encourages the very young and the very old to obtain the vaccine. This year reporting agencies are seeing an increase in those considered young.
In 2009, the pandemic H1N1 strain caused great concern among public health professionals. According to the CDC, this year’s vaccine is said to protect against several strains of the Influenza A virus, i.e. H1N1 and H3N2, and a strain of the Influenza B virus.
Officials with the CDC are stating that the young seem to be of greater risk this year from the H1N1, despite relative good health; that population is encouraged to seek vaccination.
“We are seeing a spike in those that are in their 30s and 40s reporting flu symptoms at our urgent care center. Our numbers typically spike around this time of year. We are still seeing a number of older patients, too. We had a rise in December, but we’re seeing an increase now that I expect will follow the same spikes that the ODH website has reported. I anticipate that we’ll see more in January and even on into February,” explained Knox Community Hospital Infection Control Nurse, Elaine Flowers, BSN/RN, in Mount Vernon.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
According to the CDC, the vaccine is recommended for pregnant women, children younger than five years of age, persons 65 or older, those with chronic medical conditions that may possibly compromise their ability to fight off the flu, those residing in long-term care facilities, and for those who care for loved ones or live with those that may be at high risk for complications related to influenza.
Additional steps are also advised. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing; be sure to discard tissues after use. Be sure to wash one’s hands often with soap and water.
“The thing people can do besides good hand washing is to wear a mask,” said Dr. Terry Weston, Vice President of Physicians at MedCenteral Hospital in Mansfield. Wearing a mask if you are caring for someone whose immune system is compromised in some way may help that loved one from “catching the bug.”
Avoid contact with those who are sick. It is strongly recommended that if you feel flu-like symptoms to stay home at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the aide of fever-reducing medication.
“If people are sick. They should stay home and not visit with others or those who are in the hospital,” added Flowers.
These practices will prevent the spread of the disease to co-workers, friends and family.
In the Clear Fork Valley and surrounding areas, where one may receive the flu vaccine?
“It’s not too late to get the shot if you’re concerned,” says Weston. MedCentral has enough of the vaccine for their employees, however members of the public are being referred to the Health Department or to area pharmacies.
The Health Department only has flu vaccine, pediatric doses, for children 6 months up to and including age 18. According to Reed Richomnd, parents and guardians of children in that age range who have not gotten a flu shot should call (419) 774-4700, the Public Health Clinic, to make an appointment for a flu shot. Richmond and Derr advise adults to check with pharmacies or their family doctor to get a flu shot.