The flu season appears to be coming early this year to the region, with children among those at high risk from the virus.
The Ohio Department of Health said the state is above the five-year average for the number of cases reported this time of year and “significantly higher” than the same time last year. There have been 92 flu-associated hospitalizations reported in Ohio for the week ending Dec. 2 and 257 hospitalizations since the start of the season.
Flu season changes each year in the region, though in recent years cases started to rise in December and peaked around February.
Dr. Sherman Alter, director of infections diseases at Dayton Children’s Hopsital , said the number of flu cases in the Dayton region has been slow so far but he expects the number of cases to start climbing. Dayton Children’s admitted its first child this week with flu symptoms.
“I think what you’re really going to see are offices, pediatricians, family physicians, as well as the emergency room are going to start getting busy in the weeks to come,” Alter said.
He said patients should contact their doctor or come to the emergency room if they see symptoms like their children not drinking water or eating, having shortness of breath or behavioral changes like not acting as alert as they normally do.
While flu is picking up, another virus that’s spreading this time of year among kids is RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus.
RSV cases behaves like a cold and when young children have it, they might have difficulty breathing as the virus progresses.
Alter said Dayton Children’s is hit with more cases of RSV right now than flu cases.
“RSV is a culprit that comes in every year, and we expect it, and right now we have a number of cases in our hospital,” he said.
He said children under the age of five are at higher risk during flu season and everyone over six months old should receive flu shots to reduce the risk of illness.
Flu shots are typically about 40 to 60 percent effective in preventing the flu.
Those who do get the virus typically have milder symptoms if they have been vaccinated.
Alter said it may be too early to tell how flu season will be this year, but based on the data that’s coming out of the CDC, it looks like this year could be more serious than past years.
“Again, time will tell. We’ll know in the next few weeks but my understanding is it could be a pretty impressive influenza year this year,” Alter said.
Australia and other parts of the southern hemisphere, which has an earlier flu season than the U.S., saw record high rates of flu cases and hospitalizations.
Strains in the Southern Hemisphere often spread to North America and Europe, but there’s no guarantee that the U.S. season will look like Australia’s flu season.
The Ohio Department of Health said last year’s overall vaccine effectiveness against all circulating flu viruses was 39 percent and was about 32 percent effective against the H3N2 strain of flu virus. The H3N2 was heavily circulating Australia during its recent flu season that’s now wrapping up.
Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Although most people fully recover from the flu, some have illness like pneumonia and respiratory failure, and the flu can sometimes be fatal.
It takes about two weeks for a flu shot to take full effect.
Last year there were 8,661 flu hospitalizations in Ohio. But each year, the number can change, with Ohio flu season hospitalizations swinging over the past five years from around 3,500 to more than 9,300.
“The one thing that’s predictable of flu is that it’s unpredictable,” Sietske de Fijter, Ohio Department of Health epidemiologist, said earlier this week.