Flu season has officially begun, but few cases have been reported so far, something local officials hope is a sign this year won’t be as bad as last year.
The early weeks of flu season typically yield a low number of cases in Clark County and around the country but it’s the peak season — between December and February — health care leaders told the Springfield News-Sun they are worried about.
“Usually it’s pretty low numbers at the beginning,” said Jill Sanders, a physician’s assistant at Mercy Health’s Urbana Family Medicine and Pediatrics. “Once we start seeing cases, it seems like it just snowballs and starts to increase every week.”
Around 19 cases of the flu have been reported in Ohio this flu season, according to the most recent data released from the Ohio Department of Health on Friday. No cases have been reported in “west-central” Ohio, which includes Clark, Champaign, Greene and Montgomery counties, among others.
Just three of the state’s 19 cases were reported in southwest Ohio, which includes Warren, Hamilton and Butler counties among others. The majority of cases reported so far have come from the eastern side of the state, according to ODH.
Last week, a child in Florida who had not received a vaccine became the first young person to die from the virus this season. Despite the early death, local officials are hoping they are able to avoid the high number of cases from last year which were, in part, prompted by an early spike in illnesses.
The number of influenza-related hospitalizations in Ohio last season was the highest in five years, according to the final state flu season data released in May. The 17,397 flu-related hospitalization cases reported for the 2017-18 flu season were more than twice as many as the 2016-17 season’s 8,661 cases reported by the Ohio Department of Health.
”Last year was the worst flu season we’ve had in years,” said Charles Patterson, commissioner of the Clark County Combined Health District. “We don’t want a repeat of that and that’s another reason why we want people to follow through and get the vaccine.”
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Vaccines were cited as a reason for the high number of cases last flu season. The strain of the disease included in last year’s vaccine didn’t end up matching the strain that became the most widespread, officials said.
But, the vaccine is still the best way to avoid catching the flu even if the strains don’t match up, Sanders said. If the strain in the vaccine ends up not being the dominant form of the virus this season, Sanders said it can still lessen the symptoms of another strain and shorten the amount of time someone might be sickened by the flu.
People should also make sure they are maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and washing their hands regularly in order to avoid getting infected with the flu, both Patterson and Sanders said.
“How bad is it in our area? It’s kind of one of those things that it just depends on the season,” Sanders said. “But, every year I would say it’s a major health concern.”
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