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Flu results in more hospitalizations

Clark County health officials have vaccine available.

Flu activity is rising in Clark County with five new influenza-associated hospitalizations reported to the Clark County Combined Health District the first week of January.

That pushes the number of reported cases so far this season to 11, which is a precursor for a more-widespread infection in the coming weeks, according to Gabe Jones, health district epidemiologist.

“We only had five cases in December and one in October,” said Jones.

In addition, 13 additional potential cases have been reported in January by the hospital or doctors’ offices but have not had laboratory testing to confirm the cases, Jones said. That is compared to 24 in all of December.

“Going by these numbers and looking at the national trend, there is probably going to be an increase in the cases we see,” Jones said.

The numbers lag compared to last flu season, Jones said, but looking at seasons past, it’s a different story.

“Compared to previous seasons before that, we are a little bit higher around this time frame,” he Jones.

It appears the increase is happening statewide. Current flu activity levels have increased from “local activity” to “regional activity” in the most recent Ohio Department of Health Seasonal Influenza Activity Summary, with increased numbers of both lab-confirmed cases and influenza-like illness being reported.

“It’s really starting to follow the same trend,” said Jones. “Basically, what that means is there’s an increase in flu-like illness in more of the regions throughout the state. It started to jump up right around the time we started to jump up.”

Ohio, though, has trailed the national trend so far this season.

“Ohio is kind of behind nationally,” said Jones. “It was the southern states that were getting hard early. Now it is moving up to us.”

Holiday travel could be a factor, Jones said.

“Right around Christmas, there started to be an increase. And around Thanksgiving as well. And it sort of takes time to spread the illness,” Jones said.

The Clark County Combined Health District cannot predict the length and intensity of a flu season.

“The only thing we can tell is when you see an increase at first, it is ‘flu A,’ the more intense strain, then at the end of the season, we tend to see the milder form,” Jones said.

So far, all of the reported cases have been PH1N1, which is a variation of the H1N1 swine flu strain. It was anticipated PH1N1 would start off the season, and then it would progress into the seasonal strains. So far, the PH1N1 prediction has held true.

It is not too late to take preventive action.

“Obviously, people have a time to get the vaccine,” said Jones. “It does take a couple of weeks to build up (full immunity), but you’ll still have some immunity immediately.”

Jones said the flu season generally runs from October until May.

“We’re just trying to get the word out there that we are now seeing more cases,” Jones said. “The best way to prevent it is getting your flu vaccine”

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