Flu roared back in Ohio last week, with more people reporting symptoms and seeking help in emergency departments, the state Department of Health reported Friday. No new child deaths from flu were reported.
The nation is experiencing the worst influenza season in a decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Ohio for the week ended Jan. 27, the number of hospitalizations for flu decreased for the second week. But other indicators, such as reports to doctors’ offices, are up again over the week ended Jan. 20.
This week, Hamilton County Public Health sent notices to schools and parents cautioning about increased flu and urging people to get flu shots.
A notable indicator of how seriously the flu has Ohio by the throat arises in the emergency room-visit data. For the week ended Jan. 20, ER visits had dropped 2.45 percent from the previous week. But for the week ended Jan. 27, ER visits spiked more than 13 percent.
Yet hospitalizations fell last week by 25 percent, on top of the previous week’s drop of nearly 7 percent. The bad flu season coincided with a shortage of medical supplies. Many intravenous fluids and other necessities of medical work are largely manufactured in Puerto Rico. But the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria, and the hospital supply chain is still adapting to the shortages.
it’s a little too early to call the season’s peak, said Dr. Clint Koenig, medical director for the department of health, said Friday. At about this time every year, the flu enters a second act, with less-severe strains starting to take hold. Despite the two-week drop in hospitalizations, the numbers remain above the five-year average. But Koenig said the trend indicates “that the flu is starting to let up very slowly now.”
Northern Kentucky Public Health reported that between Oct. 1, the start of the flu season, and Jan. 27, 3,442 cases of flu had been reported, a more than 50 percent increase over last year.
Though a dose of flu can put a strong person in bed for a week, flu rarely requires hospitalization – except when the person, no matter the age, has a weak or compromised immune system, usually children, elderly and the already-sick.
Local and state health authorities say they have no reports of shortages for the prescription treatment Tamiflu. But there’s a small window in which the drug can work: within a day or two of when you know you’re sick. The drug’s action aims to keep the flu virus from spreading. Take it too late, and the virus has overwhelmed any defense Tamiflu can provide.
Health officials say it’s not too late for a flu shot and that everyone 6 months and older needs one. The vaccine this year is about 30 percent effective against the major strain going around – named H3N2, a particularly nasty variant with a strong genetic drift, meaning it can change just enough to evade a vaccine.
But when more people get the flu shot, the whole community’s health improves in a phenomenon called “herd immunity.” Even if you get the flu, a vaccine can reduce the severity and duration.
The flu generally starts with a fever and muscle aches, cough and sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and weariness. But the sneaky nature of flu is that you are infectious with the virus for as long as a day or two before you actually feel sick.