Health officials warn now is best time for flu shots

Ohio public health officials say now is the “perfect time” to get a flu shot before Christmas.

Sietske de Fijter, an epidemiologist and the bureau chief for Ohio Department of Health, said she typically encourages people to get a vaccine in the first week of December, but now is just as critical.

“It is not too late to get vaccinated. When people are gathering, it is peak flu season,” de Fijter said. “Now is the best time to do it.”

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.

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The most recent data, from Nov. 24 to Nov. 30, shows Ohio has had 172 flu-related hospitalizations this flu season. The Ohio Department of Health releases new flu data every Friday.

Thirteen of those have been in Montgomery County, according to the data.

Five people in Butler County have been hospitalized due to the flu or complications from the flu, nine people have been hospitalized in Warren County, four have been hospitalized in Greene County and four have been hospitalized in Clark County.

Miami, Champaign and Darke counties had no hospitalizations in that time.

From the start of flu season to Nov. 23 there were 139 influenza-related hospitalizations in Ohio. From that period to Nov. 30 there were 33 additional flu-related hospitalizations. de Fijter said she expects to see an uptick in the number of flu-related hospitalizations after Thanksgiving.

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“Good hygiene is important when gathering in close quarters,” de Fijter said.

The best way to protect against the flu is the vaccine, de Fijter said. Covering your mouth when you cough and frequently washing hands are also good habits to take up during flu season.

“People should get the flu shot now so that they don’t have to worry about it during the holidays,” de Fijter said.

The flu is considered “widespread” in several southern states like Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina, according to national data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Twenty-two Montgomery County residents died from flu-related complications last year, said Dan Suffoletto, the public information supervisor for Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County.

One of those flu-related deaths was someone younger than 18, and 19 of those deaths were residents who were 65 and older. Last flu season resulted in four children’s deaths and more than 9,800 hospitalizations in Ohio alone.

Late December and early January are typically when flu-related hospitalizations start to peak, de Fijter said, but the flu is very unpredictable. Last year, the flu season had almost two peaks.

“The only predictable thing about the flu is that it is unpredictable,” de Fijter said.

According to the CDC, the flu infects between 9 and 35 million people in the country every year.

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