The emergence of the H1N1 flu virus has sent otherwise young, healthy adults to the hospital this year at a much faster rate than children and the elderly — the age groups typically most vulnerable to flu infections because of their fragile immune systems.
Commonly known as the swine flu, the H1N1 virus is the predominant flu strain circulating in Ohio this year and is known to target both male and female adults under age 60, according to state and local health officials.
So far this season, 602 Ohioans between the ages of 20 and 60 have been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms, compared to 423 who were 60 and older, and 209 who were under age 20, according to the latest figures available from the Ohio Department of Health.
The total number of hospitalizations reported so far this year are about half the 2,503 reported at this point in the season last year. But this year’s flu season is just beginning to peak with flu-related hospitalizations climbing 33 percent from the first week in January to more than 400 by the end of the second week of the month, the health department reports.
“We know there’s a lot of flu out there, and we’ve heard from local hospitals that flu admissions are rising,” said Bill Wharton, a spokesman for Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County, noting that flu activity is at its highest level statewide. “People should know that it’s still not too late to get vaccinated.”
Health officials say the best protection from the flu, even H1N1, is still a flu shot.
At least one local man wishes his friend and colleague had heeded that advice earlier this year.
Lt. Nick Magoteaux of the Phillipsburg Fire Department in northeast Montgomery County said fellow firefighter, Art Springer, was recently admitted to Sycamore Medical Center suffering from pneumonia caused by an H1N1 infection.
His condition was so severe that Springer, 46, was medically induced into a coma and is still in critical but stable condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit, Magoteaux said.
“Art is not the kind of guy who gets a flu shot, but hopefully this will change his mind for years to come,” Magoteaux said.
In Clark County, the number of weekly flu cases has held steady since the first of the year, with between six to nine reported each of the past three weeks, according to health department epidemiologist, Gabriel Jones. The majority of flu cases reported have been H1N1, and the average age of those hospitalized was 46, Jones said.
“That’s pretty young for hospitalizations,” he said. “It’s usually the older population because in addition to having weaker immune systems, they also typically have other health issues going on that are aggravated by the flu.”
And the results can be deadly.
A Champaign County man died Jan. 2 from H1N1 flu-related complications at a hospital in Columbus, Jones said. The man also had other medical problems that contributed to his death, he added.
Number of flu-related hospitalizations in Ohio by age through Jan. 11:
Age 1-9: 169 hospitalizations
Total hospitalizations: 1234
Source: Ohio Department of Health