Flu-like outpatient visits nearly doubled statewide last week, and Dayton area health officials cautioned anyone with symptoms to stay home.
Reported cases of influenza-associated hospitalizations are above the seasonal threshold in the state, according to the Ohio Department of Health, but it’s still below the five-year average. Approximately 166 flu-associated hospitalizations were reported in Ohio last week.
“Around the holiday season, people tend to congregate together, and that could make the flu more easily spread,” said Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County. “People also want to make sure they practice proper hygiene, covering their mouth when they sneeze, preventing spread of the flu.”
Flu-like outpatient visits increased nearly 92 percent across Ohio in the past week, according to state data. Fever and flu-like illness visits to the emergency department also increased by 19 percent last week in the state.
In Montgomery County, 49 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported this season, totaling nearly 9 percent of all hospitalizations in the state, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
“People with weakened immune systems, the elderly and the young are particularly at risk of flu complications,” said Dr. Michael Dohn, medical director for Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County.
Hospitalization data doesn’t give the full picture, as many people don’t seek treatment for their symptoms.
Many people with flu-like symptoms are likely to head out in public, according to a 2018 survey from CVS Pharmacy. About 28 percent of Americans have gone to the supermarket with flu-like symptoms; 12 percent have picked up a child from school or daycare; and 10 percent have taken public transportation.
The survey also found that 67 percent of those surveyed would still go to work if they were feeling ill with flu-like symptoms, up 2 percent from last year.
Kari Clements, quality improvement coordinator for Providence Medical Group, advised people to contact their primary care physician immediately if they feel any flu-like symptoms like fatigue, chills and fever. An anti-viral medication administered in the first 24 hours can reduce complications and shorten the length of the illness.
“Don’t feel weird about wearing a mask,” she said. “Avoid people who are sick.”
The largest influx in cases is likely going to come next month. The flu season typically peaks with the most cases in February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The “peak month of flu activity” is the month with the highest percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza virus infection during that influenza season.
Other respiratory illnesses also spread nationwide during the winter months. These respiratory viruses include rhinovirus (one cause of the “common cold”) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is the most common cause of severe respiratory illness in young children as well as a leading cause of death from respiratory illness in those aged 65 years and older, according to the CDC.
Last season was a particularly widespread flu season in Ohio, with nearly 17,400 hospitalizations. About 80,000 people died from the flu in the U.S. last season. Medical officials encouraged people to get a flu vaccine if they haven’t yet. The flu shot takes about two weeks to become effective.