Final numbers: almost no Ohio flu this season

Just 122 Ohioans were hospitalized for flu-related reasons this season.

The numbers in the state’s final flu surveillance report, published May 28, show a dramatic drop from past years. Flu cases in Ohio vary year to year; it hospitalized about 11,000 for the 2019-2020 season and more than 17,000 during the particularly hard 2017-2018 season.

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The flu hospitalized only five Montgomery County residents this season compared to 821 the season prior, according to Ohio Department of Health.

Ohio hospitals had been preparing for the possibility of a “twindemic” because the flu alone typically fills hospitals to near capacity. It could have overwhelmed hospital medical services had the state seen typical flu levels on top of an additional surge of COVID-19 patients.

COVID patients on average have longer stays, more medical needs, and need isolated units.

“It was certainly a blessing for us because every year we do normally have a high census in January in February because of flu. And if we’d had that alongside the COVID-19 surge that we had in December, that would have been very challenging for our hospitals,” said Sarah Hackenbract, CEO of Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association.

No Ohio children died from the flu this year. Four died last year. Adult flu deaths are not tracked at the county or state level.

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While the COVID-19 measures have kept flu at almost non-existent levels, the more contagious coronavirus remained widespread. The flu vaccine helped with keeping flu-levels down; it was heavily promoted this year.

The population also already has some immunity from past exposure to the flu, where COVID-19 was caused by a novel coronavirus first introduced to the U.S. in early 2020 that spread quickly through the population.

COVID-19 also spreads more easily than flu, causes more serious illness cases, and people can be contagious without feeling sick for longer.

Some public health officials are looking for lessons from this year that people could use to better protect themselves from the flu in the future.

“Keeping up some of these good habits like hand hygiene, wearing masks when you’re in crowds or when you’re having symptoms, also help stop spread of any kind of respiratory virus like the flu,” said Dr. Glen Solomon, professor and chairman of Internal Medicine and Neurology at Wright State University.

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