COLUMBUS – Influenza-like illness is now widespread throughout Ohio, and the numbers of associated hospitalizations took a big jump for the first time this season. Last week (week 8), there were 203 new confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations in Ohio compared to 93 from the week before. This brings the total to 653 since flu season began last October. By comparison, there were 7,985 total flu-associated hospitals at the same time last year when the flu vaccine was not well-matched for circulating flu viruses, which has not been an issue this year.
Flu activity this season started a bit later and has been lower so far than the previous three seasons, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), activity is still on the rise and expected to continue for several weeks.
“Influenza vaccination is the safest and most effective way to prevent the flu, except for infants younger than 6-month old who aren’t eligible to receive it,” said Dr. Mary DiOrio, medical director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). “Vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits and missed work and school.”
While vaccination provides the greatest protection against the flu, 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 healthcare providers’ offices, local health departments and retail pharmacies.
“There are no flu vaccine shortages across Ohio,” said DiOrio. “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.”
CDC is recommending 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,” said Dr. DiOrio. “They work best when started within two days of getting sick.”
While influenza-associated pediatric deaths must be reported to ODH, adult deaths are not reportable so total influenza-associated death statistics are not available. There have been no pediatric deaths reported this season.