As schools and offices close for the holidays and families and friends gather to celebrate, they may find an unwelcome guest among them— influenza.
Flu activity in Ohio has now been elevated to the highest level, “widespread,” the Ohio Department of Health said Monday.
“Widespread just means that we are seeing it in all pockets of the state,” Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Melanie Amato said, “from northeast to southwest.”
Hospitalization numbers are well above last year and above the five-year average.
Last year, flu activity did not reach this level until mid-January. Hospitalizations due to the flu last year started to increase in December and peaked the last week of February.
So far this flu season, there have been 401 flu-associated hospitalizations in Ohio, and 45 of those have been in Montgomery County. That is the highest count of flu-associated hospitalizations in Ohio.
Dayton Children’s admitted its first child with flu symptoms the week of Dec. 4. That same week, there were 144 new hospitalizations because of the flu in Ohio. That same week last year, there were 29.
These hospitalizations are trending above the five-year average. Last year there were 8,661 flu-associated hospitalizations total.
Ohio has not seen any pediatric deaths this flu season. Last year, there were six.
Australia and other parts of the southern hemisphere, which experience an earlier flu season than the U.S., saw record high hospitalizations because of the flu.
Strains in the southern hemisphere often spread to North America and Europe, but Dan Suffoletto, public information supervisor for Public Health Dayton - Montgomery County, said the flu is unpredictable.
“Each flu season is different,” Suffoletto said. “There are always peaks and valleys.”
It takes about two weeks for a flu shot to take full effect.
“Now is the perfect time to get your flu shot before the holidays,” Amato said, to prevent spreading the virus to loved ones.
Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, avoiding others who may have the flu or avoiding others if you have the flu are some tips that Suffoletto gave to keep it at bay.
“If you think you have symptoms of the flu, go see a doctor before it is too late,” Amato said.
But Suffoletto said, “It is not too late to get your flu shot.”
“There are no shortages of vaccines available,” she said.
The Ohio Department of Health recommends that everyone six months and older get a flu shot as soon as possible.