Health officials warn: Flu season peaking early, lasting longer

Health department says it’s not too late to get your flu shot – 

By Patricia Beech – 

The 2017-18 flu epidemic has hit a milestone that hasn’t happened in over a decade with “widespread” incidents of the respiratory illness being reported in all 50 states.
According to Dr. William Hablitzel, Director of the Adams County Health Department, it has been one of the more severe flu seasons.
“Statistics show it’s been 13 years since we have had a flu season like this,” Hablitzel said. “It started early, and is probably peaking now – which normally happens around February in this area.”
Flu season not only arrived early this year, it’s been one of the deadliest outbreaks in recent years, especially among otherwise healthy children. In Ohio, a 4-year-old from Montgomery County and a 1-year-old from Lucas County both succumbed after contracting the flu virus.
According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), there has been a significant spike in the number of people across Ohio who have contracted the flu in the past month.
In the southwest region the number of flu-related hospitalizations jumped from 59 to 82 to 273 in the past three weeks. In Adams County the number of hospitalizations rose from 2 to 5. Across the state there has been a total of 3,857 flu-associated hospitalizations since flue season began in October.
“Those numbers show that influenza is probably peaking, but we won’t know for certain whether we’re in the midst of it until next week when the CDC releases new numbers,” Hablitzel said. “Hopefully, we are in the downward trend.”
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the predominant flu virus this year is the H3N2 strain, and it appears to be taking a toll among the young and healthy.
“That doesn’t mean that any one group is off the hook,” says Hablitze., “People over 65 and people with chronic health diseases like diabetes and asthma are still more at risk for complications associated with the flu, especially pneumonia, that’s what most people end up being hospitalized for.”
He says the best way to avoid the flu is to “get a flu shot”.
“Even if the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective because the virus has mutated, there’s still value in getting the flu shot, even though the flu vaccine may not be a perfect match,” he says. “It can still reduce the severity and complications that accompany influenza, and that’s really important, particularly in high risk groups.”
Hablitzel also warns that not getting the vaccine can put others at risk.
“It’s amazing how many people I talk to who don’t get a flu shot,” he says. “If they aren’t worried about themselves, they should worry about other people in their families, especially older people they may have contact with, by not getting a flu shot they’re placing those people at a greater risk.”
While everyone should get a flu vaccine, the CDC notes it’s especially important that the following groups get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications: Pregnant women; children younger than five, but especially children younger than two years old; people 65 and older; people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions; people who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; and people who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from the flu including household care givers, child care providers, and health care workers.
Additionally, there are antiviral medications that can be used to lessen the severity of the flu and reduce the risk of contracting the flu among those exposed to the virus.
Dr. Hablitzel says there are common sense things everyone can do to prevent flu such as avoiding crowds, washing your hands frequently, not touching your face, and most importantly getting a flu shot.
“We still have plenty flu shots available,” he says, warning that flu season can last through May. He adds “It isn’t too late to get one.”
To make a flu shot appointment with the Adams County Health Department, call (937) 544-5547. The cost of the shot is $20, and the department does accept insurance cards, as well as Medicare and Medicaid.
The Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Aging (ODA) last week urged older Ohioans and their families to be aware of the elevated risk of complications from flu and to take steps to prevent its spread.
“For many reasons, older adults are more likely than younger adults to experience the flu and its complications,” said Dr. Clint Koenig, Medical Director of the Ohio Department of Health. “The flu can make existing health problems worse and can be particularly dangerous for the 80 percent of older Ohioans who have at least one chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease.”
“Flu prevention is not just a personal health issue, it is a public health priority,” said Beverley Laubert, Interim Director of the Department of Aging. “Older adults and those who spend time with them can do a lot to stave off flu and flu-related complications so that they can continue to grow, thrive and contribute.”
Flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It can cause mild to severe illness and, in some cases, can lead to death. Flu viruses are spread from person to person by coughing and sneezing or through surfaces. Symptoms of the flu may come on quickly and may include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
To minimize your risk of getting and spreading the flu the ODH and the ODA recommend the following: 1) Get a flu shot. Even though we are already well into the flu season, there is still plenty of time to benefit from a flu shot. Ask about special high-dose vaccines specifically for older adults. There is plenty of vaccine available across the state. 2) Maintain good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, manage stress and be as physically active as is appropriate for you. Drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritional foods. 3) Wash your hands. Scrubbing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds can kill most of the flu viruses your hands encounter. When you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands. 4) Limit your contact. Avoid contact with people who may be ill with the flu, as well as surfaces they may have touched. Likewise, if you feel you may have the flu, limit the time you spend with others until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of medicine. Call ahead to places like doctor’s offices, nursing homes and senior centers to see if they have special visitation restrictions for those who have flu-like symptoms. 5) Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away immediately and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow then wash any affected skin immediately.
If you get the flu, proper care can lessen symptoms and decrease the time you are ill and able to infect others. Stay at home and get plenty of rest. Drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost through fever and sweating. Talk to your medical provider about medicines you can take to manage your symptoms and how they may interact with other medicines you take.
Visit www.flu.ohio.gov for information and resources to help you fight the flu.