Area hospitals have lifted visitor restrictions as one of the worst flu seasons in recent years slows down in Ohio.
There have been more than 14,700 flu-related hospital visits in Ohio this year, but new state data shows the rate of new cases is falling. At its peak in January, there were more than 1,800 hospitalizations in one week.
In December, the flu season prompted local hospitals to restrict children under the age of 14 and anyone with flu symptoms from visiting patients. But because of the significant decrease in reports of flu and hospitalizations due to the flu, all hospital visitor restrictions were lifted by March 24, according to the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association.
Bryan Bucklew, president and CEO of GDAHA, said the group’s infection control committee recommended hospitals rescind visitor restrictions a little earlier than March 31 when they originally had planned.
“The number of hospitalizations due to flu over the past three weeks have either been at or below our five-year average,” he said.
The Ohio Department of Health reported there were 453 flu-related hospitalizations for the week ending March 17, which is the latest data available. That number of hospitalizations was down almost 19 percent from the week before and was the fourth straight week of decline.
The number of patients in an outpatient setting reporting flu-like illness was down a little over 10 percent from the week before and the thermometer sales — one of the annual flu-activity indicators — were down about 3 percent.
Dr. Clint Koenig, medical director for Ohio Department of Health, said there are indicators that the flu season is winding down, but the CDC still considers the flu “widespread” in the state.
While hospital admissions, reports of flu-like symptoms, and thermometer sales are all down, Koenig said ER visits are still above the five-year average.
“All in all it’s looking very favorable but from a state perspective we’re not down to the five year average yet for this particular week of the year,” Koenig said.
The type of flu cases reported have been shifting from H3N2 to H1N1, which means cases are shifting to a type of flu that typically causes less hospitalizations than the H3N2 strain.
“It still technically not too late to get a flu shot,” he said.
The flu season changes each year in how severe it is, though every season it still leads to thousands of hospitalizations in Ohio and even some cases of flu-related deaths. Four Ohio children had died this year because flu-related symptoms.
Dan Suffaleto, spokesman for Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County, said the serious flu season points to the necessity of everyone six months and older getting a flu vaccination next season.
“Given that it was so bad this season, I think it goes to further emphasize the need to get your flu shot and get your flu shot early,” Suffaleto said.