A pipette is used to transfer the flu virus at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine building in Athens. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

As flu season ends, officials already look to prep for next year

The final flu numbers from this last season are just in, but public health officials and physicians are already thinking about the next season and how to prevent strain on the health system if there’s coronavirus spreading at the same time.

Melissa Wervey Arnold, president and CEO of the Ohio Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, said providers are thinking ahead about how to make sure Ohio patients get flu vaccines and about what kind of steps they could take, like extended hours or vaccination clinics.

MORE: Local pediatricians urge parents to keep up with well visits

“Private practices usually don’t get their supplies until later September, but there’s been a lot of advocacy to see how quickly they can get it, because they would like to get that done and get their patients vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Arnold said.

About 11,000 Ohioans were hospitalized due to the flu in the 2019-2020 season from Oct. 1 through May 16, according to the final season report from Ohio Department of Health, which was published Friday.

Five Ohio children died from flu-related reasons. Adult flu deaths are not tracked at the state or county level, though the federal government will have an estimate.

CORONAVIRUS: Complete coverage

Confirmed flu-related hospitalizations in Ohio had been above the five-year average for the first two months of the year and started declining in March before going aggressively down in April and May.

The first week of January, the flu season had pushed the Miami Valley Hospital emergency department to capacity and department providers urged people with mild symptoms to first try their primary care provider or urgent care.

Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County, said hospitalizations in Montgomery County had started out high but then declined into the season. He said in January, February and March, messaging spread about the importance of hand washing and social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus hands, which are also measures that slow the flu.

“So the same things you do to protect yourself from COVID-19 also protect against the flu,” he said.

He said looking into next year, the goal is to particularly keep flu numbers down as low as possible because of COVID-19.

“We don’t know how many more cases there will be going forward, but we do want to make sure the hospitals are available for people who may contract COVID. By keeping flu numbers down and keeping people out of the hospital from the flu, that frees up more beds for other things, such as COVID,” Suffoletto said.

Each flu season is different, Suffoletto said, and a past season can’t predict what is going to happen the subsequent season.

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