COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Flu hospitalizations continue to spike in Ohio, with a 51 percent jump the last full week of December, the state said Friday. Two deaths have been reported, both teenagers.
For the week of Dec. 21 through Dec. 27, 973 people were hospitalized, bringing the flu season total to 2,892, according to the Department of Health.
The Health Department says the southwestern region of the state had the most hospitalizations during the reporting period with 212.
The agency says a 15-year-old girl in Ironton in southern Ohio died from the flu in November and a 16-year-old boy in Licking County died last month.
People with flu symptoms should talk to their doctor about treatment, especially the elderly, the chronically ill and pregnant women, said Dr. Mary DiOrio, the health department's medical director.
"We're still seeing significant illness out there and are still encouraging individuals who haven't gotten a flu vaccination to do so because of this intense flu season we're having," DiOrio said Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that this year's flu vaccine may not protect against the dominant flu strain as well.
DiOrio said getting the vaccine can still provide some protection.
Several hospitals around Ohio are asking people with flu symptoms to stay away to avoid sickening patients and staff.
In Sandusky, Firelands Regional Medical Center is restricting visitors to individuals 18 and older and immediate family or immediate support persons. The hospital is also asking anyone with flu symptoms not to visit patients.
In Dayton, officials are asking people with the flu to stay away from emergency rooms. The Greater Dayton Hospital Association says the flu epidemic is crowding hospital emergency departments, and the staffs also are getting sick.
In Akron, greeters at the entrances of the city Children's Hospital ask people to reconsider visiting the facility if they're showing signs of illness.
Columbus has seen the largest number of flu hospitalizations in a week since the city started recording them in 2009, according to public health officials. The news comes as unusually high numbers of flu sweep the state, with some hospitals urging people to stay away from emergency rooms.
Officials report 101 hospitalizations for flu between Dec. 20 and Dec 27, the Columbus Dispatch said in a story Thursday (http://bit.ly/1tGH4IW).
The totals since reporting began in August would be 375 if no more cases are reported by the end of this week, though officials expect more, said Jose Rodriguez, a city health department spokesman. That would be more than five times the 74 cases reported this time last year.
The flu season is "substantially worse" this winter than in previous years, Dr. Alan Gora, emergency-department medical director for Mount Carmel hospitals, told the newspaper.
"One of the reasons it's been so bad is the ineffectiveness of the initial vaccine," Gora said. "Even some of the people who were vaccinated are getting sick."