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Norovirus, whooping cough, flu concern local health officials

The worst influenza season in a decade has walloped Clark County, but health officials also warn the area is facing outbreaks of the norovirus and whooping cough.

Officials confirmed cases of both the norovirus and pertussis/whooping cough in Clark County, which has also seen the largest number of hospitalizations as a result of the flu in nearly 10 years, according to officials with the Clark County Health District.

“We’re basically seeing at least three different types of illnesses, and two of them are viruses,” Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said. “The important thing is: if you’re sick, stay home, and for those things that you can be immunized for, get immunized.”

Last week, Patterson’s 16-year-old daughter, Kara, learned she had whooping cough, a highly contagious respiratory disease known for uncontrollable, violent coughing that often makes it hard to breathe.

Kara said she began feeling sick last Sunday.

“I had a cough and a headache. I just felt like laying around and terrible,” Kara said.

She said she was initially taking medicine for bronchitis before lab results confirmed she had pertussis.

Patterson said his daughter, who was immunized against the disease two years ago, must complete a five-day treatment with antibiotics before returning to school this week. He also said he and other family members are being treated to prevent them from developing the illness.

Kara is the first confirmed case of whooping cough in Clark County this year, said Gabe Jones, an epidemiologist for Clark and Champaign counties, but he said other reported cases are yet to be officially confirmed.

More than 20 outbreaks of the norovirus have been investigated in the area since October, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The norovirus is a contagious virus that can be contracted from an infected person, contaminated food, water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jones said the outbreaks, which have been contained, have come when health district officials and health providers are scrambling to find flu vaccine to handle influenza.

“We want the community to be aware it. That there’s the flu going around, but also pertussis and the norovirus,” Jones said.

Clark County has had 20 hospitalizations as a result of the flu since flu season began in October. During the entire 2010-2011 flu season, only eight residents were hospitalized because of the flu.

The first reported case was reported Oct. 1, compared to the previous flu season when the first case was reported in January 2012, Jones said.

“This season we had 20 in the same time period last flu season we would have had just two,” Jones said. “It picked up in 2010-2011, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this, this early, in maybe a decade.”

Although Patterson’s daughter received immunization for pertussis, and others who have received flu shots have been sicked by the flu, he maintains inoculation is key to stopping the spread of the diseases.

“You can get a lesser degree of the illness. There’s still a benefit to getting the flu shot,” Patterson said.

Clark County ran out of the adult flu vaccine on Friday, but Patterson expects more to arrive today.

“We’re getting more at the health department, and (residents) can get them at the pharmacy and a doctor’s office,” Patterson said. “The important thing is don’t stop looking for the vaccine because the first place you go to is out. There’s definitely flu vaccine out there to be had.”

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