Under the weather

Flu season expected to be harsher than normal

Flu vaccine

Kelly Reaver, Logan County Health District nursing director, holds a box of influenza vaccine this morning in the cooler where the vaccine is stored at the 310 S. Main St. facility. She said the flu vaccine will continue to be available in the upcoming months at the health district during vaccination clinics, offered from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursdays and 2 to 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month. (EXAMINER PHOTO | MANDY LOEHR)

Ohio Department of Health officials reported Wednesday the state’s first two pediatric influenza deaths in Montgomery and Lucas counties, at a time when local health officials say they have handled a large number of confirmed flu cases in recent weeks in Logan County, much earlier than the typical peak flu season in February.

Tammy Allison, Mary Rutan Hospital community relations, reports this week that a total of 66 confirmed influenza cases were treated at the hospital and affiliated clinics between Dec. 1 and Jan. 9. During that period, 40 of the cases presented at the hospital’s emergency department and convenience clinic, and the remaining 26 between its physician clinics, including MRH Pediatrics and MRH Internal Medicine.

The hospital spokeswoman noted this is a dramatic increase in influenza cases compared to the same period last year, when only four cases had been confirmed by MRH medical practitioners.

In addition, Logan County Health District Nursing Director Kelly Reaver reported this morning that thus far this flu season, seven county residents have been hospitalized with influenza, with the first case in September and an increase in cases in late December. While the county also had a number of flu-related hospitalizations for the 2016-17 season, Reaver said those cases hit later in the season.

This local spike in flu activity coincides with a statewide increase of 1,750 new confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations in Ohio during the first week of January, a significant increase over 925 reported during the last week of December. There have been 3,854 total flu-associated hospitalizations in Ohio since flu season began in October, ODH officials said.

New Flu activity map

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports as of this week, flu activity is now categorized as widespread in Ohio and 45 other states.

The influenza A (H3N2) version seen most often this year tends to be particularly difficult for children and adults 65 and older. State health officials said the pediatric influenza deaths involved a 1-year-old boy from Lucas County and a 4-year-old boy from Montgomery County.

What can area residents do to protect themselves from further complications if they suspect they may have influenza? Last week, Logan County Health Commissioner Dr. Boyd Hoddinott related at the Logan County District Board of Health meeting that he recommends individuals seek care from their medical practitioner and inquire about antiviral medications such as Tamiflu.

For patients with flu symptoms of a fever of 101 or greater and who are feeling achy, having chills, headaches, fatigue and/or a sore throat, antiviral medications can help to reduce the severity of their illness.

“It is time to treat,” the health commissioner said. “Individuals can receive Tamiflu up to four days after the onset of symptoms. We are encouraging them to do so to give them every bit of help that we can.

“We’re seeing such a nasty strain of the virus this year that is difficult to fight and is ending up with more hospitalizations. I’m observing that some cases of the flu are turning into pneumonia.

“Receiving the antiviral medications can also help reduce the spread of the illness.” In addition, vaccine effectiveness against the H3N2 viruses has been around 30 percent, while the flu vaccine’s effectiveness for other circulating flu viruses has been about 60 percent for H1N1, and around 50 percent for influenza B. A study also done on flu vaccination said that it can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from influenza.

Flu vaccinations are available at the Logan County Health District, 310 S. Main St., during regular immunization clinic hours, from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursdays and from 2 to 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month. Flu shots also are available most healthcare providers’ offices and retail pharmacies.

During this flu season, Allison noted that while the hospital has not restricted visitation, the facility has infection control stations at each of entrances with hand sanitizers and masks.

“We ask that individuals that are coming for an appointment and have cold- or flu-like symptoms to use the hand sanitizer and put a mask on prior to moving about the hospital,” she said. “In addition, we ask that individuals not come to the hospital to visit patients if they have cold or flu-like symptoms.”

Other effective ways to avoid getting or spreading the flu include: washing hands frequently or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer; covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, or coughing or sneezing into elbows; avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth; and staying home when sick.