Two new cases of flu-related hospitalizations were reported to the Delaware General Health District last week, bringing the total number of local cases to 15 this flu season.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is an easily spread respiratory illness tracked yearly because of its potential for outbreaks and complications.
Statewide, 1,970 influenza-related hospitalizations had been reported in Ohio for the 2013-2014 season, compared with 3,434 influenza-related hospitalizations reported by the same point for the 2012-2013 reporting season.
Ohio is now one of 41 states reporting widespread flu through the fourth week of the calender year, the most recent reported data. Neighboring Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, and Michigan are also reporting widespread activity.
The Ohio Department of Health tracks flu data statewide. The 40th week of each calendar year – about the last week of September or first week of October – is considered the start of flu season. Yearly flu data is compared using calendar weeks of the year rather than specific dates.
By the 4th week of 2013, 274 cases of lab-confirmed flu were recorded for the 2012-2013 flu season. So far this season, only 110 lab-confirmed cases have been reported statewide.
No pediatric deaths have been reported from the flu in Ohio during this flu season.
Those low numbers may be the result of a lot of school calamity days, said DGHD Director of Nursing Joyce Richmond.
The flu season started early this year, according to the DGHD. The first two cases of flu-related hospitalization were reported in October. In 2012, 13 flu-related hospitalizations had been recorded in Delaware from September to the end of December (the fourth quarter of infectious disease reporting). This year, only five cases of influenza-related hospitalizations were recorded in the first week of the flu reporting season. The first week of the 2012-2013 flu season saw 11 identified flu-related hospitalizations statewide.
“This year has been more mild, but it’s never to late to get your flu vaccination,” said Tessie Pollock, spokesperson for the ODH. “We can see flu throughout the year.”
The vaccine comes in two forms: a nasal mist and a more common-flu shot. So far this flu season, the DGHD has distributed more than 1,900 flu vaccinations.
“It is difficult to say how many Delaware County residents have been vaccinated because of the number of different vaccine providers, so we have no way of knowing how many doses have been given,” Richmond said. “The Health District has given 1,913 flu vaccinations so far this season, which is consistent for the number that we normally provide.”
Flu is caused by a virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics. Although prescription antiviral medication is available for some cases, the CDC identifies the flu vaccine, avoiding contact with germs and proper hand washing as the best methods of prevention.
Pollock said the flu can be spread at any time of the flu season or year.
“Don’t let your guard down,” she said. “It’s still going around.
Richmond said it is not too late to get a flu shot because the flu season lasts until spring.
“We continue to have an adequate supply of flu vaccine for all age groups,” Richmond said. “We have been getting referrals from some physician’s offices because they have used up their supply of flu vaccine.
The push for the flu shot is because the respiratory illness often confused with the cold or for “the stomach flu” can be severe for elderly patients or those with complicating health issues. For others, it can mean lost work or school. Most importantly, the flu is highly contagious through respiratory droplets produced through cough. According to the CDC, creating a herd immunity – vaccinating a majority of people to help protect those are not vaccinated – slow the spread of the flu.
“If you are able to get a flu vaccine, do it not only to protect yourself, but to protect your family and those who are not able to get the vaccine (because of allergies or health reasons),” Pollock said. By preventing the flu in a majority of people and not becoming a carrier of the virus “it can help keep Ohio well.”
The body does not build up full immunity to the flu until two weeks after vaccination, and it is still possible to get the flu even if immunized; the vaccine itself cannot cause the flu because the virus use in the shot to create immunity is inactivated.
The most notable symptoms are fever or feeling feverish, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue, according to the CDC. Not everyone will have a fever, but fevers can also be high. Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, though it is more common in children than adults. In severe cases in the elderly or immuno-compromised, the flu can open the patient up to pneumonia, which can be deadly.
Richmond said even if vaccinated, anyone with flu-like symptoms should contact a health care provider as soon as the symptoms show up up.