February 8, 2019

Ohio Flu Statistics Unseasonably Low, but Shots Are Still Recommended

If you haven’t received a flu shot yet, it’s time to seriously reconsider. Experts warn February will likely be the worst month of the flu season.

Seasonal influenza (the flu) is a contagious illness that causes symptoms including fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. The virus spreads through tiny droplets produced by those with the illness—every cough, sneeze and exhalation can spread it. Five to 20 percent of the US population contract the virus each flu season, and Oxford feels its impact every year.

According to the Ohio Department of Public Health, the state has seen 1,279 influenza-associated hospitalizations during the 2018-2019 flu season as of January 26. Of these hospitalizations, 44 are from Butler County. This is a decrease from the previous year, where Butler County had 521 total hospitalizations, 294 being flu-related.

Registered nurse Machel Tipton, the practice manager of Miami University’s Student Health Service, reflected on the flu season this year. She mentioned that local flu cases are more sparse compared to other states

“Ohio is fortunately not seeing the number of cases that other states are seeing this flu season,” Tipton said.

The severity of the virus varies from year to year because different strains of influenza circulate each year. Despite the drop in flu cases this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that February is historically the month when the virus peaks nationwide.

The CDC reports that the flu vaccine is single-handedly the best way to prevent the illness. The vaccine reduces the odds of contracting the virus by 40 to 60 percent. If you have not received the vaccine, Experts suggest still getting the vaccine if you haven’t already, because flu season lasts until May.

The flu can strike anyone, but some people are more at risk than others. Children younger than five, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, nursing home and long-term care residents, and anyone with a weakened immune system should be extra cautious.

Last year’s flu season shattered records and took nearly 80,000 lives nationwide, according to the CDC. It also saw 959,000 hospitalizations in total, with 17,397 of those occurring in Ohio.

The flu costs the country over $10 billion each year in medical expenses and hospitalizations. An additional $16 billion becomes lost from missed earnings due to flu sickness.

Prevention Efforts in Our Schools

Talawanda School District health and wellness coordinator Amy Macechko says this flu season has been fair for the district. She hasn’t seen as many cases as in past years, which could be credited to the school system sending out information in mid-December to alert families about the dangers of influenza.

“Education and reminders to families and students play a huge role in preventing the flu,” Macechko said.

Similarly, Tipton credits the prevention efforts of the Student Health Service on keeping Miami relatively safe from the flu so far this season. The clinic has collaborated with Miami’s Greek life and provided this community with reminders on how to stay healthy during this potentially dangerous time of year.

“Education on hand washing is a big thing we do,” Tipton said. “We also try our best to get people vaccinated.”

The clinic remains steadfast in their work to educate patients on the safety of the vaccine and reminds everyone that getting the shot protects both you and your loved ones. Tipton still recommends getting the vaccine if you haven’t already. US News estimates that 43 percent of adults don’t plan on getting a flu shot this season, mainly due to worries over side effects.

“Our nurses are asking all patients if they have gotten the flu vaccine,” Tipton said. “We address any concerns about the vaccine at that time with the patient.”

Expert Advice to Stay Healthy

If you experience flu symptoms, the CDC recommends staying home, unless you need medical care. Most people will experience mild symptoms and do not need medical care. You should contact your health care provider if symptoms worsen or you fall into one of the previously mentioned high-risk groups. It is advised to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever subsides.

The CDC suggests following these steps to help prevent the flu:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Disinfect commonly touched surfaces
  • Try to avoid close contact with those with the flu
When taking care of someone sick with the flu:
  • Avoid being face-to-face with that person
  • When holding a sick child, place their chin on your shoulder
  • Wash your hands very frequently