Flu season in region unusually mild

Health professionals say a flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu, but not foolproof. They also recommend everyday health practices, like washing hands and staying home if you’re sick. FILE

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Health professionals say a flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu, but not foolproof. They also recommend everyday health practices, like washing hands and staying home if you’re sick. FILE

Low cases a relief for hospital workers dealing with COVID-19 hospitalizations

Influenza season isn’t over yet, but so far few people in the region have had a flu-related hospital stay.

The spread of the virus in early December appeared to be picking up speed. However, cases and hospitalizations leveled off, then declined, and remain much lower than typical pre-pandemic seasons, according to state data.

The mild flu season has been a relief for hospital workers, who have been understaffed and treating a surge of COVID patients this winter.

“If you had thrown a very severe flu season on top of that, it would have been much worse,” said Dr. Jeffrey Weinstein with Kettering Health.

For the week that ended Feb. 12, there were only three flu-related patients hospitalized in west central Ohio and three in southwest Ohio, according to Ohio Department of Health.

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“In a severe flu season, we could have, 40, 50, 80 or more people admitted to the hospital each week. Even 100,” Weinstein said. “So that would have put a much bigger strain on our hospitals, given the fact that we had hundreds of COVID patients hospitalized.”

Overall, the state reported 570 Ohioans hospitalized since the flu season started, though Feb. 13. By this time last year, only 81 people were hospitalized from the flu since the start of the season.

Also, no Ohio children have died from the flu this season, according to the latest state data.

Weinstein said there are several theories as to why flu cases were low this year. COVID-19 prevention measures like mask wearing, handwashing, distancing, and vigilance about staying home when feeling sick, also help prevent the spread of the flu. There was also a huge effort to encourage flu shots this season.

While flu seasons can range from year to year, in past season the virus typically would have hospitalized thousands by now.

The flu season isn’t over yet.

People who haven’t received their flu vaccine yet are still encouraged to get one, according to Nate Smith, communications coordinator with the Clark County Combined Health District, which is still offering flu vaccines.

“We have seen a decreased number of flu cases, but that doesn’t mean it’s not out there,” Smith said.

Health officials urge flu vaccines for everyone 6 months and older to lower people’s personal risk, and to protect the people around them.

Flu shots are available at many pharmacies, public health clinics, primary care practices, workplaces and pop-up clinics. Flu vaccines can also be located at vaccines.gov/find-vaccines/.

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People at higher risk of serious flu complications include young children; pregnant people; people with certain chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease; and people 65 years and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If people at higher risk from flu get flu symptoms, they could benefit from taking influenza antiviral drugs early after symptoms start, and should call their health care provider early to ask about antivirals.

The CDC also advises that vaccination is important for health care workers, and other people who live with or care for people at higher risk to keep from spreading flu to them. This is especially true for people who work in long-term care facilities, which are home to many of the people most vulnerable to flu.

Along with vaccines, other prevention steps include avoiding close contact with sick people, covering coughs and sneezes, and frequent hand washing.

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The CDC recommends people recovering from flu stay home for at least 24 hours after any fever is gone, unless leaving to get medical care or another necessity.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea.

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