Flu activity up at start of season, experts recommend vaccines

Flu activity in the Miami Valley started earlier this year and is stronger now than it was at this point last year.

Three weeks into this flu season, 40 influenza-related hospitalizations have been reported in Ohio. That’s up 60 percent from the same time last year when Ohio, when 25 cases had been reported, according to new data from the Ohio Department of Public Health.

Several of those were in the Miami Valley, including one each in Montgomery, Greene, Clark and Warren counties. Three cases also have been reported in Butler County and two in Hamilton County.

“We started seeing cases at our community health center as early as August this year,” Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said. “That’s a little bit sooner than we typically see them.”

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The first flu-related death in the U.S. this season was reported earlier this week in Marion County, Ind. Last flu season resulted in four children’s deaths and more than 9,800 hospitalizations in Ohio alone.

The best safety net against the contagious respiratory illness is getting the flu shot, several health experts said.

“We know that the flu vaccine does prevent,” said Amy Schmitt, a registered nurse at Green County Public Health. “That’s a huge component of keeping the community well and influenza free … We’re hoping that our preventative measure will decrease the instance of flu in our community.”

The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to become fully effective, so anyone over six months of age should get it as soon as possible.

It’s especially important to get the vaccine before the holidays, Patterson said. Thanksgiving and Christmas are often accompanied by travel to family events that people are less likely to stay home from than school and work when sick.

“When you’re getting the flu vaccine, not only are you protecting yourself, but you’re protecting others,” said Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County. “The more people who get that vaccine, that will reduce the chances of other people contracting the flu.”

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Each year scientists formulate the vaccine based on what types of flu strain they expect. This year the vaccine includes protections against H1N1 and H3N2, Schmitt said. It’s still possible to become sick by catching a different strain not covered in the vaccine.

Health officials also recommended washing hands frequently, fist bumping instead of shaking hands and covering mouths when coughing and sneezing.

Some people are at higher risk for flu complications, such as those 65 years and older, young children, pregnant women and those with asthma, diabetes, cancer or HIV/AIDS.

People who share phones or utensils, are often in large group situations or touch their faces often should also wash their hands especially often, Suffoletto said.

“If someone’s sick, they’re infectious, and if they’re in a group, they’re probably going to transmit those bugs,” Schmitt said.

The more than 9,800 hospitalizations in Ohio last year only tell part of the story, Suffoletto said. Others aren’t hospitalized, but they’re still sick to the point where they miss work, school and other important events.

People who are sick are urged to stay home, he said, to avoid contaminating other students, coworkers or family members.

Even though activity has started earlier and there have been more hospitalizations so far this flu season, Patterson said that doesn’t necessarily predict that the season will be bad as a whole.

“Last year we saw a couple of waves, which you would see when you have a pretty strong season. Our advice to the public, is the advice we typically give,” he said. “Consult your physician and get a flu shot if that’s appropriate for you and your family.”


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