LIMA — Influenza has claimed three lives this flu season in Allen County, according to the Allen County Public Health Department.
“We would like to extend our condolences to the family and friends of the individual,” Kathy Luhn, Allen County Health Commissioner, said in a press release. “Influenza is a serious condition, and we encourage everyone to take steps to protect themselves from this illness.”
The reported deaths occurred between Dec. 26 and Dec. 31. The first involved a juvenile, the other two involved adults.
Putnam County’s Health Department also reported two flu related deaths in the last few weeks of December, both were elderly with underlying conditions.
With an early start this holiday season, the flu has already hospitalized 2,000 Ohioans.
Luhn said Allen County has already had 125 flu hospitalizations since August. In the same time period last year, only 10 hospitalizations were reported in the area, none of which resulted in death.
Still, the commissioner said it’s difficult to compare flu seasons and its severity or cause. For example, in 2014 there were more flu cases in the fall but it was reported every month of the year except September. In contrast, 2013 had most of its cases in the beginning of the year, with no recorded flu hospitalizations between May and September.
“Each flu season is unique, some are worse than others,” Luhn said. “I wish flu was more predictable, but its not.”
Auglaize County’s Heath Commissioner, Oliver Fisher, said December has proved to be the most severe with the majority of the season’s 28 reported hospitalizations.
Last year, Auglaize County had 17 hospitalizzations and zero deaths. Fisher said there has been a noticeable increase in cases reported this season.
“We’re actually surprised we haven’t had more cases,” he said.
Sherri Recker, director of nursing for Putnam County’s Health Department, said they have had similar trends, though Putnam’s flu season has been less rampant compared to neighboring counties.
The county has had no reported deaths and only 14 flu related hospitalizations this season, the first reported Dec. 4. This time last year, the county had only two reported cases and no deaths.
“The flu season can vary, depending on the month or time of year,” Recker said. “Some years, we’ve seen it even earlier, like in September or October. Typically in Ohio, we see it January through March, but this year it has seemed to have hit earlier.”
Luhn said the people most at risk for flu are the young, elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Last year, the flu was worse for young and middle-aged adults but this season hospitals are seeing flu patients of all ages.
Symptoms including high fever and dehydration should be taken seriously, and should prompt a visit with a physician. Luhn said the flu usually hits faster than a cold would with more aches and fatigue.
“It is a very serious condition,” she said. “Some people say, ‘It’s just the flu,’ but for others, its not. It’s a very serous illness and I hope people take precautions to keep themselves and others healthy.”
Officials are encouraging residents to take the necessary precautions to avoid the illness, such as frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes with sleeves or tissues and staying home when sick.
Because the flu season usually lasts until about March, it’s not too late for people over the age of 6 months to get the flu vaccine. Though the vaccine and the more common flu strain are a bit mismatched this year, Luhn said the shot is still effective and is available at local clinics and the Allen County Public Health Department.