March 12, 2012
CINCINNATI — A child has died from flu complications in Ohio, the first confirmed flu-related child death of the season in the state, health officials reported Friday as influenza sufferers take up hospital beds at much higher rates than the last two flu seasons.
Health Department spokeswoman Tessie Pollock said the state wouldn’t release any other information about the child.
There have also been reports of a handful of adult deaths linked to the flu, but the state department doesn’t tally those deaths because there are often underlying health conditions involved, she said. Among the reports was that of a 22-year-old Wright State University student who had been hospitalized last week with the flu. Health officials in western Ohio are still investigating her death but say she appeared otherwise healthy.
Ohio is among 47 states with widespread flu outbreaks, and health officials blame the flu for at least 20 child deaths nationally. In Ohio, there were no child deaths recorded from the flu in the last season, and only one the previous season.
Flu-associated hospitalizations are running at much higher rates than the last two seasons. The state reports there have been 1,922 since October in Ohio, compared with 86 a year ago and 175 the previous season. This season started early; influenza is usually at its worst in late January and February.
Some hospitals have begun limiting visitors and handing out surgical masks to try to slow the spread, and health officials are urging people to stay home if they are sick and to keep ill children out of day cares and schools.
With Miami University’s spring semester beginning next week, school officials are bracing for a spread of illnesses that have already hit many employees.
“Everybody’s been sick. It’s miserable,” said Ritter Hoy, a Miami spokeswoman. She said the flu and bronchitis have been sweeping through staff, including a long-time school official who was out sick a full week after going years without taking a sick day.
The Oxford-based school in southwest Ohio has some 17,000 students and 4,000 employees.
“I’m sure it’s going to be really, really bad,” she said of the return of a full campus. “All it takes is touching one door handle.”
Pollock noted that the state is coming off an unusually mild season a year ago, and two relatively light seasons after the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.
“You can’t make a statement about the severity of a flu season until it’s over,” she said.
The Health Department advises people to get flu shots if they haven’t already and says there are sufficient supplies of the vaccine available around the state. While flu shots aren’t a guarantee against catching the flu, Pollock said the vaccine seems to be a good match for current strains.