Flu season typically begins in October and spans until March or later, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Cook said nationally, the peak of flu season has taken place in February nearly half the time over the past 40 years, but December, January, and March are the other peak months.
ODH tracks seasonal flu hospitalizations on a weekly basis throughout the year, but healthcare providers are not required to report influenza cases in Ohio, Cook said.
Flu hospitalizations significantly dropped throughout the state during times Ohioans were masking and not congregating during the peak points in the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020-2021 flu season saw less than 40 flu-related hospitalizations in the central Ohio region, which includes Clark and Champaign counties, with 133 hospitalizations reported statewide that same season.
The following flu season saw an increase in flu hospitalizations in the central Ohio region, with more than 200 reported. Statewide, more than 2,000 hospitalizations were reported.
In the beginning weeks of the 2022-2023 flu season, ODH has reported 12 flu hospitalizations in the central Ohio region, with 20 hospitalizations overall.
Two hospitalizations have been reported specifically among Clark County residents, according to the health district.
Although cases of the flu declined during pandemic-era restrictions like the use of face masks and physical distancing, the flu did not disappear during that time, Cook said.
“We still had cases and people died from influenza,” Cook said. “But all of the protective factors we had in place to limit the spread of COVID worked on influenza just as well, if not better.”
Cook said those at the highest risk for severe illness related to the flu are the same groups who are at the highest risk for severe illness from COVID-19: people who are age 65 and older, young children, and anyone with chronic respiratory conditions, especially.
The Centers for Disease Control last week reported that Clark County is at a “medium” level of COVID-19 transmission. The CDC designations are based on the number of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the past week, new COVID hospital admissions and the percent of staffed inpatient hospital beds occupied by coronavirus patients.
Residents of counties with a “medium” level of transmission should stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, get tested if they have symptoms and consider wearing a facemask in public spaces, particularly if residents are at high-risk for severe illness, according to the CDC.
Vaccines best tool
The health districts recommend vaccination as the best tool against infection and severe illness from both flu and COVID-19.
Cook said the health district and area pharmacies have seen a high amount of interest in vaccination against the flu this season, but the number of flu shots decreased over the last few years and overall vaccine hesitancy has increased.
Gabe Jones, the health commissioner of the Champaign Health District, said health workers in his county are seeing a bit more of a demand for the flu vaccine this year than in the past two years, where people’s focus was mostly on the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s always difficult to predict what we will see, but we always encourage everyone to stay ahead of what may be coming this season by getting a flu shot and doing everything possible from a prevention standpoint,” Jones said.
Fewer flu shots administered to people means less of the population is protected against the sickness, Cook said.
“The flu vaccine can help prevent infection and can reduce the severity and length of illness if you do get sick,” he said. “For those who are at high risk, a flu shot can save your life.”
To be considered, too, are expenses tied to the illness. According to the CDC, the flu costs the U.S. approximately $10.4 billion in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults.
Best time is now
The best time to get vaccinated, Cook said, is now.
“October is the perfect month for your flu shot. You definitely want to be sure you get your vaccine before snow starts falling,” Cook said.
The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or “match” between the viruses in the vaccine and those in circulation, according to ODH.
Clark County’s health district is offering flu shots on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. by appointment at its 529 E. Home Road office. Those seeking a vaccine can call 937-390-5600 to schedule an appointment.
The Champaign Health District holds vaccine clinics on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday by appointment. Those interested in getting vaccinated can call 937-484-1667.
As of this week, a little more than half of Clark County’s and a little under half of Champaign County’s populations have completed their COVID-19 vaccines series, according to ODH.
Flu prevention tips
The Ohio Department of Health said the flu shot is another way to keep yourself healthy as we approach the winter season. The state’s health department provided these other tips to prevent flu infection:
1. Wash your hands! This was similar advice given during the pandemic’s beginning: frequent hand washing will help you reduce the chance of getting contamination from common surfaces.
2. Cover your cough! Flu virus is spread through the coughs and sneezes of those infected with the sickness. Be sure to also through away any tissues as soon as you can if you use them to suppress your sneezes and coughs.
3. Eat well, drink water, and sleep! Establishing good health habits now can help your body stay healthy and fight off the flu and other illnesses if you do come into contact with people who are sick.