Flu season off to slow start, but unpredictable

The flu season has officially begun in Ohio, but it’s off to a slow start with no significant flu activity yet reported in the state.

Still, the flu season can be unpredictable in both timing and severity. And while there have only been a small number of confirmed influenza cases across the state, according to the Ohio Department of Health, officials are encouraging everyone over the age of six months to get a flu shot as soon as possible.

“Influenza vaccination is the safest and most effective way to fight the flu, and October is the perfect time to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Mary DiOrio, ODH medical director. “Flu vaccination is especially important for older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions who are more vulnerable to serious flu complications.”

The flu vaccine, which takes about two weeks to take full effect, is available at most health care providers’ offices, local health departments and retail pharmacies. It’s still possible to get the flu even after being vaccinated. But the vaccine can reduce the severity of symptoms and prevent the need for flu-related hospitalizations.

But the vaccine has its limits, according to Gabe Jones, and epidemiologist with the Clark County Combined Health District.

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Each year, vaccines are created well in advance to protect against strains of the flu virus that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts will be the most widespread circulating viruses.

But determining those strains is not an exact science, Jones said: “With flu, it’s always kind of random. The CDC always tries to predict what they can…but there’s no way to be sure

“Getting the flu shot is definitely the best method for preventing the flu,” he added, noting the CDC does not recommend the nasal spray flu vaccine because of its low effectiveness in recent years. “But anything can happen, and it can be completely unexpected. You can’t really cover anything 100 percent.”

It’s not only difficult to predict the most prevalent viruses in advance, it’s nearly impossible to predict what changes might take place during the flu season, which typically begins in October and runs through spring.

During the 2014-2015 flu season, one strain of the flu virus covered by the vaccine mutated, lowering the effectiveness of the vaccine and leading to one of the most severe flu seasons in the recent years when there were 9,374 confirmed flu-related hospitalizations in Ohio.

By comparison, 3,558 Ohioans were hospitalized after contracting the flu during the past flu season.

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