LIMA — Flu activity is now widespread in Ohio — with more than 1,000 hospitalizations reported across the state and at least 24 hospitalizations in Allen County, according to the latest Ohio Department of Health data for the 2019-2020 flu season. But physicians say it’s not too late to get a vaccine.
“That is the single biggest thing you can do to assist yourself in prevention, is get the flu shot,” said Dr. Ryan Schwieterman, a physician with the department of hospital medicine at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima.
Schwieterman encouraged Ohioans who have not yet received their flu vaccine to consider doing so, as flu-related hospitalizations in Ohio have nearly doubled compared to this time last year.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, there have been 1,003 flu-related hospitalizations reported in Ohio through Dec. 28, compared to just 555 reported during the same period in the 2018-2019 flu season.
“Getting the flu vaccine is the safest and most effective way to prevent the flu for everyone 6 months and older,” Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director for the Ohio Department of Health, said in a statement last week. “Flu hospitalizations could still be on the rise. You need to protect yourself, your friends and your family and get a flu shot now if you haven’t already.”
“I always give this spiel to patients: We try every year,” Schwieterman said. “We try to predict the four most likely strains that will come. We’re wrong sometimes. But what we see is, if you do get infected — even if it’s completely off — you usually have a shorter course and a less intense course because you do get some cross protection from the other strains.”
The shot typically takes two weeks to take effect and is recommended for individuals six moths and older, including pregnant women.
The elderly, young children and those with chronic illnesses are at highest risk of developing complications from the flu, which can lead to hospitalization or death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate more than 6.4 million Americans have already contracted the flu during the 2019-2020 season, with nearly 2,900 deaths and 55,000 hospitalizations reported across the U.S.
Cory Unverferth, manager of infection prevention and control for Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center, said the best way to prevent the flu at home is to wash hands regularly and sanitize the home. He recommends individuals who display flu-like symptoms stay home and avoid contact with others whenever possible.
“Cover your cough. Use tissues. Cough into your sleeve. If you have to go out into the community and you are sick, wear a mask to prevent the spread,” Unverferth said.
Flu symptoms are similar but more severe than those associated with the common cold, which can typically be treated at home with over-the-counter medications.
“Think of the common cold, which pretty much everybody experiences once a year, and magnify it. That’s typically how the flu will present,” Schwieterman said.
Schwieterman recommends calling a primary care doctor within 48 hours of developing flu-like symptoms. That time frame is important, he said, because antiviral medications are more effective when started within the first 48 hours. But a trip to the emergency department may be needed in more severe cases, such as when an individual has shortness of breath or an inability to keep food and water down.
“If you’re just coming (down) and you’re this sick already, there’s a good chance you’re going to get sicker and you might be in trouble by that time,” Schwieterman said.
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.