Hospitalizations spike to highest point of flu season

Influenza vaccine being prepared by Montgomery County Public Health Nurse Debbie Parker at their clinic in Dayton. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Influenza vaccine being prepared by Montgomery County Public Health Nurse Debbie Parker at their clinic in Dayton. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Nearly 1,000 Ohioans spent time in the hospital last week with flu-related symptoms, the highest recorded this flu season.

The 994 hospitalizations from Feb. 2-8 marks a new high for the 2019-2020 flu season and a 19% increase over the previous week, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

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These numbers bring to 5,457 the total hospitalizations since the season began at the end of September, and are more than double the hospitalizations reported during the same week of last year’s flu season.

This includes 533 Montgomery County flu-related hospital stays from Oct. 1 through Feb. 8.

“One in 12 Americans is likely to get sick from flu this season,” said Ohio Department of Health Medical Director Dr. Mark Hurst,. “The next person hospitalized could be you, your child, or another loved one. Protect yourself and everyone around you by getting a flu shot and following other precautions.”

Two Ohio children, girls ages 11 and 16, have died from the flu this season. Adult deaths are not reported to the state.

The Associated Press reported Friday that nationally, the number of child deaths and the hospitalization rate for youngsters are the highest seen at this point in any season since the severe flu outbreak of 2009-10. And the wave is expected to keep going for weeks.

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For Dayton Children’s Hospital, flu season is also a time of year when RVS cases (respiratory syncytial virus) cases pick up, causing cold-like symptoms.

Stacy Porter, spokeswoman for Dayton Children’s, said their most recent RSV numbers are way down, with 21 positive tests last week. The pediatric hospital’s flu numbers had a bit of a rebound then went down again, with 503 positive tests for the flu for the week ending Feb. 8.

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.

The virus can be especially dangerous for people who are very young or elderly, people with compromised or weakened immune systems, people with chronic health conditions, and pregnant women. But the anyone can get the flu and flu shots are advised for everyone six months and older.

“You talk to most physicians who’ve worked in health care for a while, they will have a sad case of someone in their 20s or 30s who had no diseases who unfortunate didn’t survive a fight with influenza,” said Dr. Roberto Colon, associate chief medical officer at Miami Valley Hospital and VP of Quality for Premier Health.

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Adults at low risk for serious complications could also still spread it to people they come in contact with who are vulnerable.

“That’s particularly concerning for anyone who has young children, or cares for older adults or is in the health care environment. If you yourself have an influenza infection and you don’t have severe disease, you may pass it along to someone who experiences that severe disease,” Colon said.

Certain antiviral medications can ease flu symptoms and are especially important for people in high risk groups.

Along with getting vaccinated, good prevention practices include staying home when sick, practicing good handwashing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and covering your coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue. Good practice disinfecting surfaces, getting plenty of sleep, and managing stress.