A long, hard flu season may finally be nearing its end.
After a long, nasty stay, the flu may finally be on its way out.
Stark County reported 39 new cases of influenza between March 4 and March 10, the latest week data is available. Of those cases, 13 people were hospitalized.
It was the fourth week in a row that reported flu cases have dropped in the area.
Flu season in Stark County hit its peak during the first week of the year, with 208 reported cases and 84 additional hospitalizations.
The actual number of flu cases is likely higher. Clinics and physicians aren’t required to report cases of the flu and do so voluntarily.
"We're on a down-tick," said Amanda Archer, an epidemiologist at the Canton City Health Department.
But she cautioned against celebrating too soon.
"It doesn't mean flu isn't a concern anymore. It is," Archer said, pointing out that people are still getting sick and ending up in the hospital.
The health department is starting to see more reports of Influenza B, a strain of the virus that typically arrives late.
"That's an indicator we're moving toward end of the season," she said. "Numbers are going down. That's good."
Flu is still widespread in Ohio, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of March 10, Stark County had 1,557 reported cases of flu, more than double the 741 cases reported during the same period last year. About 272 people have been admitted to the hospital for flu this year, compared to 89 last year.
It's been a unusually long battle.
Flu season occurs annually from October to May and typically peaks between December and February.
This year, people started getting sick much earlier. The health department had reported flu cases at the beginning of October, a rare occurrence, Archer said.
The predominant flu strain this year has been H3N2, a type of Influenza A known for causing more severe illnesses and hospitalization.
"It's a meaner bug. It hits people harder," Archer said.
An earlier flu season may have led to less people being vaccinated before the virus hit. The influenza vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective, Archer said.
Influenza mutates so the vaccine is updated every year to protect against what researchers estimate will be the predominate strains.
According to early CDC reports, this year's vaccine was 36 percent effective overall — 25 percent against H3N2, 67 percent against H1N1 and 42 percent against Influenza B.
If you get the vaccine and still catch the flu, you'll likely have a milder case, Archer said.
The vaccine does not cause the flu. People often confuse a normal immune response — low-grade fever, feeling unwell — with the virus, she said.
It's not too late to get the flu shot, especially if you're at high risk or live or work with someone who is, she said.
You can also prevent the spread of flu by staying home when you're sick, washing your hands, covering your cough or sneeze and keeping your hands away from your face.
"All the stuff our moms taught us," Archer said. "Keep doing that stuff. It works."
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