The number of flu cases in Ohio spiked again last week and some doctors said it has been the worst year they have seen in a decade.
Nearly 1,200 Ohioans were hospitalized from complications to the flu from Feb. 8 to Feb. 15, the most recent Ohio Department of Health data available.
Forty-seven of those hospitalizations were in Montgomery County.
Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health, said the flu has been “particularly hard-hitting” in the Miami Valley. Suffoletto pointed to several area school districts, like Franklin and Centerville, closing due to the flu and other sickness.
Clark and Greene counties saw 10 hospitalizations last week. Champaign County had three flu-related hospitalizations in that time.
There have been 6,631 influenza-related hospitalizations in Ohio since the beginning of flu season in October.
Overall, the CDC estimated that 26 million Americans have gotten sick with flu this past fall and winter, with about 250,000 flu-related hospitalizations and around 14,000 deaths. More than 105 of those deaths were of children, the most pediatric deaths at this point in the season since the 2009 flu pandemic.
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Dr. Josh Ordway, who has practices in Franklin and Springboro, said he has seen more cases of the flu this year than in the past seven years he has been in practice. And while nationally, more children have tested positive for the flu or died from the flu, Ordway said he hasn’t seen any at his practice.
“My guess is that with the weather being a little milder this winter, that we have more people out and about and in close proximity, spreading the flu around,” Ordway said.
Suffoletto said the best way to prevent catching the flu is to get a vaccine. And since flu season lasts well into March, Ordway and Suffoletto said it is not too late to get a flu shot.
“It is the best way to protect yourself,” Suffoletto said.
The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to become fully effective and it is recommended for anyone over six months of age. The only people who should not get a flu shot are those who have had an allergic reaction to the vaccine in the past.
Getting vaccinated is especially important for people who are more vulnerable to serious flu complications, including older adults, young children, pregnant women and people with long-term health conditions, Ordway said.
The flu is spread by droplets that come out of people’s mouths when they speak, couch or sneeze, Ordway said. It is especially important during flu season to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, he said. A good rule of thumb, Ordway said, is if diagnosed with the flu, stay home until the fever has been broken for 24-hours without medicine.
“(Doctors) are happy to write letters keeping people home from work, if it means preventing the spread of the flu,” Ordway said.
Suffoletto said limiting exposure to people who are sick, not sharing cups or eating utensils and regularly washing hands for at least 20 seconds can also help protect residents of the Miami Valley from the flu.
“Just practicing good, everyday hygiene goes a long way to prevent the spread of the flu,” Suffoletto said.
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The flu is very unpredictable, health officials said. The number of flu-related hospital stays varies widely each year.
Last flu season, there were 9,865 hospitalizations. The 2017-2018 flu season saw more than 17,000 flu-related hospitalizations, while the year before saw only about 8,000 hospitalizations. In the 2015-2016 flu season there were about 3,700 hospitalizations.
Flu symptoms are also incredibly variable, Ordway said. For some people, the flu brings muscle pains and makes it nearly impossible to get out of bed, for others, it may just feel like a common cold.
“So the flu is especially dangerous if you’re a person who’s in contact with a lot of people, especially if they are kids or elderly people,” Ordway said.
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