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Flu cases have soared this month in Butler County. Here’s what to do.

Nurse Debbie Parker prepares flu vaccine for patients at the Montgomery County Public Health Clinic in downtown Dayton. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Nurse Debbie Parker prepares flu vaccine for patients at the Montgomery County Public Health Clinic in downtown Dayton. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The flu has taken flight in Butler County since late December. And it has been soaring this month.

Last week, 97 new cases of flu were reported in the county. That’s up from 57 the prior week, 35 during Christmas week, and just nine the week before that, according to the Butler County Health Department. Through Tuesday, there were another 20 cases were reported this week.

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“Our main message to the public is to stay home if they feel sick,” said Jenny Bailer, the county health commissioner. Those numbers include illnesses across the county, including Hamilton and Middletown.

The sharp increase in Butler County’s flu data mirrors the regional and statewide numbers. There were 273 in Southwest Ohio who were hospitalized because of the flu, or flu-like symptoms, during the first week of 2018. That was more than four times the number from the last week in 2017, and more than 4 1/2 times the number in the second-to-last week of 2017.

Statewide, there were 1,750 Ohioans hospitalized in the first week of the year, which was nearly double the last week of 2017, and more than triple than in the second-to-last week of 2017.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is pushing awareness for Ohioans to protect themselves during this flu season as more than 3,800 in the state have been hospitalized because of the flu.

"We want to make sure Ohio families know how to protect themselves. That starts with getting a flu shot. It's not too late to get vaccinated," he said, citing that vaccinefinder.org can help people locate flu shot providers in their region.

Brown said that a flu shot doesn’t give 100 percent protection, so people “should still take precautions.” That includes washing hands, avoiding people with the flue, covering coughs and sneezes and disinfecting surfaces that could have the flu virus.

“And if you suspect you have the flu, go to the doctor,” he said. “Those with seniors, young children, people with immune conditions are especially at risk, and it can be prevented with early treatment.”

Dr. Marcus Romanello, chief medical officer at Fort Hamilton Hospital, said his hospital, like other healthcare and retirement facilities, has instituted restrictions on visitors — nobody with respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose or fever may visit, and anybody under age 14 is not allowed to visit.

“Fort Hamilton Hospital, like the rest of the area, continues to see significant volume of patients affected by influenza, predominantly Influenza A,” Romanello said. “Many patients seen in the Emergency Department are able to be safely discharged, but we have a large volume of patients admitted with respiratory complications due to the combination of influenza and chronic lung disease.”

One reason children tend to be restricted first, said Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips, is, “because kids are usually the biggest germ people.”

At Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital, children under 14 also are being barred, and anyone who is sick is asked to stay away, said Nanette Bentley, a spokeswoman for that hospital system.

Nursing homes in the region have instituted similar restrictions on their own, such as keeping sick residents in their rooms, and curtailing community activities.

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“We have two nursing homes that we have been notified have initiated precautions,” Bailer said, noting there may be more. She did not know which facilities were involved.

Nursing homes and hospitals typically take steps to protect residents by having visitors wear masks, if they allow visitors in at all.

Residents who test positive for the flu should be isolated in their rooms, and barred from community activities, until they are fever-free for 24 hours, officials said.

If people are sick, they need to stay in their rooms until they’re fever-free for 24 hours. Visitors should wear masks if they visit a nursing home while sick.

Better than that, Bailer said, “Our advice is if you’re ill, don’t go to a nursing home.”

Bailer suggested watching for these symptoms to identify flu:

• Sufferers usually have a fever.

• Usually, there are cough and respiratory symptoms.

• People usually experience an achy-all-over feeling that some describe as “being hit by a train.”

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Butler County health officials provided these flu prevention tips:

• Stay home if you feel sick.

• “If they think they may have the flu, they should call the doctor as soon as possible and see if they can get a prescription for Tamiflu, an anti-viral (medicine). It can potentially decrease the severity and length of an illness,” Bailer said.

• She added: “There’s not a shortage of Tamiflu this year. Some years there is a shortage.”

• Anyone with fever should remain home until they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours.

• “Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” recommends Kay Farrar, Hamilton’s health director.

• “If somebody’s coughing, it’s airborne,” Farrar said, “so people should cough into their sleeve, and it’s a good time not to be shaking hands, so do a fist bump or something.”

• “I always tell people the best thing they can do is stay healthy,” Phillips said. “Sleep good, eat good, hydrate yourself, stay healthy, and stay away from sick people.”

Butler County flu, by the numbers

Here are the numbers of Butler County flu cases since October:

10/1 through 10/7 — 0

10/8 through 10/14 — 1

10/15 through 10/21 — 3

10/21 through 10/28 — 0

10/29 through 11/4 — 1

11/5 through 11/11 — 0

11/12 through 11/18 — 0

11/19 through 11/25 — 1

11/26 through 12/2 — 1

12/3 through 12/9 — 5

12/10 through 12/16 — 4

12/17 through 12/23 — 9

12/24 through 12/30 — 35

12/31 through 1/6 — 57

1/7 through 1/13 — 97

1/14 through Tuesday morning — 20

Source: Ohio Department of Health