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Flu activity in Ohio is now widespread

The flu has spread across Ohio, and more than half of the state’s regions are seeing a growing number of flu-like illnesses, the Ohio Department of Health said Friday.

Despite the increase in cases, flu-related hospitalizations statewide have plummeted compared to the same period a year ago. The southwest portion of Ohio also has far fewer suspected cases of the flu than other regions.

But Ohio is now among 10 new states with widespread flu activity for the week ending Jan. 4, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly flu advisory report. The flu is now widespread in 35 states and is expected to increase for at least several weeks nationally since the season typically peaks either in January or February. CDC reports that 20 other states are reporting high levels of influenza-like illness.

A total of 10 influenza-associated pediatric deaths for the 2013-2014 season have been reported, but none in Ohio.

“Generally this time of year is when you see the height of flu activity,” said Shannon Libby, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health. “The only thing predictable about flu is that it’s unpredictable.”

So far this season, about 833 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported in Ohio, and the largest concentrations were in the northeast (95) and north central (90) regions, the health department said. Southwest Ohio had 29 flu-related hospitalizations as of Jan. 4.

But during the same period a year ago, there were 1,922 reported hospitalizations in Ohio. Health officials, however, said last year’s flu season was severe.

Still, the seasonal flu in Ohio has been classified as “widespread,” which is the highest level of flu activity.

Symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

The flu usually causes mild to severe illness, and most people recover within weeks. But a flu infection can lead to hospitalization and death.

Flu is more prevalent in the winter months, because people spend more time inside, and the virus responds well to cold, dry air, experts said.

Immunization is the safest and most effective way to prevent getting the flu, and Ohioans are encouraged to get vaccinated, said Dr. Ted Wymyslo, the director of the health department.

Health officials said everyone 6 months or older would benefit from a flu vaccine. But people should also regularly wash their hands, avoid close contact and stay home when sick to avoid spreading the disease.

“I guess we’re just reminding people to be cautious, and it is always a good idea to protect yourself,” Libby said. “We want to keep as many people from getting the flu as possible, because it’s no fun.”

The flu season this year is also unusual in that H1N1 is the dominant strain of the influenza virus, health officials said. The H1N1 strain — nicknamed the “swine flu” when it first appeared in 2009 — typically affects young people and middle-aged residents.

Standard strains of flu are more of a threat to elderly residents.

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