Local counties see ‘dramatic rise’ in flu hospitalizations

Local counties have seen a “dramatic rise” in flu hospitalizations in recent weeks and has some questioning the effectiveness of the flu vaccine released this year.

Influenza-associated hospitalizations across the state have greatly increased from Dec. 17 to Dec. 23, according to the most recent data from the Ohio Department of Health. There have been 1,182 influenza-associated hospitalizations in Ohio, compared to 214 cases at the same time in 2016.

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Hospitalizations in Montgomery County jumped 50 percent during Dec. 17 to Dec. 23 compared to the week before. The percentages of urgent care and emergency room visit for people presenting with flu-like symptoms also increased by nearly 28 percent in Montgomery County. Influenza A is the most common subtype in the region this season.

All local counties either saw an increase in flu-related hospitalizations or the same number of hospitalizations compared to the week before. In Butler County, there were 25 flu-related hospitalizations up until Dec. 23, a 2 percent increase.

Dr. Marni Teramana, a Kettering Medical Center emergency medicine doctor, said now is typically the time hospitals start seeing an increase in flu cases. “We see it three months before and three months after, and this is the time of the season where we start to see an up-tick, but we have seen quite a bit the last three weeks of the Influenza virus,” she said.

She said it’s never too late to protect against the flu with a vaccination, as cases will continue to occur through the winter until March.

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“We’re certainly seeing an increase in Influenza A, seems to be more so than Influenza B,” she said. “Either way, we’re seeing lots and lots of viruses, you know it is that time of season where all the colds and coughs and viruses are around, you’re trapped in these closed environments and you’re sharing all of those germs readily.”

Some critics are questioning if the vaccine has been effective this year.

The vaccine may be mismatched for the prominent strains spreading this year, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The vaccine could only be about 10 percent effective, according to data from Australia’s flu season. Australia uses the same type of vaccine and saw high numbers of cases and hospitalizations during their flu season.

In the U.S last season, overall vaccine effectiveness against all circulating flu viruses was 39 percent, and effectiveness was only a bit lower — 32 percent — against H3N2 viruses. Vaccine effectiveness against other flu viruses (i.e., H1N1 or B viruses) was‎ higher. This season’s flu vaccine includes the same H3N2 vaccine component as last season, and most circulating H3N2 viruses that have been tested in the U.S. this season are still similar to the H3N2 vaccine virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Hospitalization numbers are well above last year and above the five-year average. Last year, flu activity did not reach this level until mid-January. Hospitalizations due to the flu last year started to increase in December and peaked the last week of February.

Dr. Michael Dohn, medical director for Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County, said the severity of local flu cases is tracked in a number of ways. It is tracked by emergency room visits, and thermometer sales at local drug stores is also tracked to gauge illness in the region.

Dohn encouraged people to wash their hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and to stay away from people when you are ill. He said it’s not too late to get the flu vaccine.

The Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association announced last week that adult, short-term acute care hospitals has implemented restrictions in an effort to minimize the spread of respiratory infections to hospital patients, employees and community members.

The policy is in place through March 2018. The policy includes: no visitation by anyone who is ill with any respiratory symptoms including coughing, fever, chills, headache, vomiting, sore throat and muscle aches or diarrhea.

“The restrictions also include not permitting children under the age 14 in the hospital for visitation purposes or anyone who exhibits flu or cold symptoms,” said Bryan Bucklew, president and CEO of GDAHA. “Children are particularly likely to carry viruses since they are heavily exposed in the school setting.”

Symptoms of influenza can include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Although most people fully recover from the flu, some experience severe illness like pneumonia and respiratory failure, and the flu can sometimes be fatal.

Effective ways to help prevent the spreading of flu

  • Stay home and avoid contact with people for at least 24 hours after your fever subsides without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
  • Restrict visitations at the hospital
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor recommends them


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