Flu cases ‘widespread’ in Ohio

The flu is sickening Ohioans much earlier than usual this year.

The state health department has elevated flu status to“widespread,” the highest level, up from “regional” earlier this month. The pervasiveness of flu is measured by the number of hospitalizations for patients whose flu is confirmed by testing, and that number statewide was up to 401 during the week of Dec. 9, according to state health authorities.

Marietta City Health Department RN Julie DePuy said Tuesday the latest report she had seen, dated Dec. 18, showed 26 flu hospitalizations for December in the southeastern Ohio region, which includes Washington County and 10 other counties.

“The reportable part is hospital confirmed cases,” she said. “The only other way is to confirm by being tested by your doctor, but they usually treat presumptively. The test costs money, and they’re going to treat you the same.”

The demand for flu shots has remained steady, she said.

“It’s not a bus pulling up and 90 people getting out, but it’s a consistent steady flow, it hasn’t decreased,” she said.

Melanie Amato, director of communications for the Ohio Department of Health, said the virus has spread unusually early this year, with activity levels not ordinarily seen until mid-January.

“Flu is very unpredictable, and it’s hard to know why it behaves the way it does. Sometimes it’s weather related, but there could be many factors,” she said.

Marietta City Schools nurse Tonja Cullen said Tuesday the flu doesn’t appear to have had an unusual effect on attendance.

“”I really don’t know how many kids have been out, but it doesn’t seem to be out of the norm,” she said. “We haven’t seen an influx, it just seems normal for this time of the year.”

Amato said this is the perfect time of the year to get a flu shot.

“It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to get fully activated in your system, which is just in time for all those holiday gatherings where you get together with a lot of people,” she said. Those gatherings mean greater chance of exposure to flu, and also, if you get sick, a greater chance of infecting other people, she said.

Time is running short to get vaccinated, however. The Marietta Health Department will not offer shots during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s, although the Washington County Health Department will continue offering inoculations Wednesdays from 1 to 6 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

The city’s immunization schedule resumes after the holidays on Mondays, starting Jan. 8, DePuy said, with an extended-hours day from 8 a.m. through 6:30 p.m.

Depuy said public health authorities encourage everyone to get flu shots, especially those six months to 5 years old and 65 years or older because they have greater vulnerability to becoming seriously ill.

And in addition to vaccination, the most effective flu prevention is a habit.

“Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” she said.

At a glance

How can you tell if you have the flu?

Some or all of these symptoms:

¯ Fever.

¯ Cough.

¯ Sore throat.

¯ Runny nose.

¯ Body aches.

¯ Headache.

¯ Chills.

¯ Fatigue.

¯ Sometimes, diarrhea or vomiting.

What to do

¯ Most flu victims get only a mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs.

¯ Stay home, rest, avoid contact with other people.

¯ Remain home and avoid contact with others for at least 24 hours after the symptoms are gone.

¯ High-risk groups such as children under 5, adults over 65, pregnant women and people who have certain medical conditions should contact a doctor early in the illness for advice and if necessary treatment or medication.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.