Good job, everyone who has gotten a flu shot, washed hands, stayed home when sick — you helped bring down the peak of the seasonal illness in Ohio last week.
The Ohio Department of Health reported Friday that while still widespread, the incidence of flu in Ohio decreased between Jan. 14 and 20. Hospitalizations dropped to 1,681, down from 1,805 the previous week. Three Ohio children have died from flu this month, but the most recent state report said no additional children have died from the illness.
While the flu is still substantially more severe than in recent years, the report showed that the trend lines are dropping. The flu season generally runs from October through March, so it’s not too late for a flu shot.
Public health officials with the state of Ohio, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky say they are not seeing shortages of the flu vaccine. Anyone six months and older should get a flu shot.
The message, at least in part, seems to be getting through. Demand for the vaccine, and for flu treatment, has been strong at Kroger’s in-store Little Clinics, said Ken McClure, Kroger’s regional director of corporate affairs.
“Anecdotally, our nurse practitioners have stated that they are treating more incidents of flu than they can recall from the past several years,” he said. “In December 2017, we administered over 2800 flu vaccinations at 39 Little Clinics in the Cincinnati/Dayton Division, and have administered more than 1600 thus far in January of 2018.”
Another barometer of this flu season’s severity is sales of over-the-counter remedies. Damon Peters, spokesman for Procter & Gamble Co., said sales were up for its Vicks products from October through December “attributable to an earlier and stronger start to the cough-and-cold season.”
Climbing flu hospitalizations this season coincided with the shortage of bags with intravenous fluid, caused by Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, where most IV bags are manufactured.
“I’d say we’re seeing close to a third to twice as many admissions (for flu) as in years past,” said Carolyn Fiutem, infection prevention officer for TriHealth. A key problem in older hospitals is making sure they have enough semi-private rooms to keep infectious patients away from those who don’t have flu.
Fiutem said that because of the IV bag shortage, caregivers are mixing medications in smaller bags or delivering them through the “push” method, in which a nurse directly injects into a patient’s IV line – a time-consuming, sometimes painful delivery
Fiutem also warned the influenza virus can lurk in your body for 12 to 24 hours before you feel sick. That incubation makes handwashing all the more important, she said.
“You should be washing your hands very frequently, especially if you touch things before you touch eyes, nose and mouth,” she said.
Some schools, such as Covington Catholic, have been hit hard by flu. Officials of other Greater Cincinnati systems say they are watching for outbreaks. The flu has whacked some local workplaces – City View Tavern in Mount Adams closed for a day, for example – but others push through.
“We haven’t seen a lot of absenteeism due to flu,” said Pete Buscani, spokesman for LaRosa’s Pizza. The tough time for the restaurant chain was over the holidays, “when everyone comes back and needs to get their La Rosa’s-Graeter’s-Skyline fix,” he said.
Tire Discounters, the Cincinnati-based chain, has rolled through the flu season, said spokeswoman Abbey Dryden. “Customer service is such a major priority focus for us that if someone’s out, then, ‘Who’s their backup?’ ” she said. “If we need to, I’ll go out and work in the stores.”
The fluctuations of flu severity generally is baked into employers’ attendance policies, said David Zoogah, a management expert at Xavier University’s Williams College of Business. Research is not clear on how businesses can make absences due to flu a special matter, he said. It’s illegal, after all, for an employer to ask for a reason when an employee calls in sick.
“Flu seasons specifically are often embedded in the sick-leave policies, but because employees can sometimes abuse the system, organization tend to be very strict,” Zoogah said. Human resources departments “are often conflicted. One, they have the responsibility of ensuring health and safety. If you have flu, you can’t come in and spread the flu through the entire organization. At the same time, if an employer made a blanket statement about the flu, it’s likely to be a subject of abuse.”