Flu cases significantly down this year

The number of flu cases in Ohio is down dramatically from the same time a year ago, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

There were 121 flu-related hospitalizations reported through Nov. 27, compared to 202 for the same period last year, according to the health department, which reported no flu-associated deaths in children.

But as the holiday season kicks into full gear, flu cases are expected to spike as more people crowd shopping malls, eateries and holiday gatherings, increasing their exposure to the flu virus.

“Flu activity typically peaks between December and February, so now is a great time to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your loved ones,”said Dr. Mary DiOrio, the health department’s medical director. “Influenza vaccination is the safest and most effective way to fight the flu.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older as the first step in protecting against seasonal flu viruses. Once vaccinated, it takes about two weeks for the body’s immune response to fully kick in.

The CDC has identified 20 influenza viruses so far this flu season, and all have been found to be genetically similar to the viruses covered by the 2015-2016 flu vaccine.

“This year’s flu vaccine appears to be a great match for the viruses circulating,” DiOrio said. “More than 140 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed across the U.S, and there are no vaccine shortages across Ohio, making this a great time to get vaccinated.”

Locally, Montgomery County health officials said the handful of flu cases they’ve seen so far this season have been isolated and spread across the Miami Valley.

Gabriel Jones, an epidemiologist at Clark County Combined Health District, said the flu is “basically nonexistent here right now.”

Still, Jones warned people against being lulled into a false sense of security.

“We’ve only had one hospitalization since the flu season started, but flu is definitely more likely to spread in the coming months,” Jones said. “I’m hoping it doesn’t happen over the holidays, but the flu is unpredictable.”

Flu seasons typically start in October and can last into the spring. Last year, flu cases spiked early in the season, then leveled off before spiking again late in the season.

In addition to the vaccine, people can help avoid getting or spreading the flu by washing their hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes with tissues or sneezing into their elbows and avoiding touching their eyes, noses and mouths.

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