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The Suburbanite
  • Flu makes an early arrival in Stark County

  • The number of people hospitalized by the flu in Stark County doubled the week ending Dec. 22, the second to last week of the year, according to a weekly report from the Canton City Health Department.

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  • An early flu season is forcing people into emergency rooms and statcare facilities and prompting a spike in sales of over-the-counter cold and cough medicines in Stark County.
    Cases of the flu typically increase in mid- to late February, but a recent report from the Canton City Health Department shows the trend starting six to eight weeks earlier this year. The week prior to the Christmas holiday was particularly bad.
    “It was the biggest (week) so far,” Health Commissioner Jim Adams said of the most recent report for the week ending Dec. 22. “This year’s a little unusual.”
    During the most recent reporting period, 26 people were hospitalized for the flu in Stark County — double the number from the week ending Dec. 15 — while another 93 people were treated for the flu but did not require hospitalization.
    To date, 91 people have been hospitalized and another 342 people were infected by the flu, but did not require a hospital visit. At least one person has died from the flu this season. The data is culled from hospitals and statcare centers in Stark County. Adams said only 10 to 15 percent of flu cases are reported since most people don’t seek treatment.
    The report also found that sales of thermometers increased 64 percent in Stark County and sales of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines increased 21 percent between the weeks ending Dec. 15 and Dec. 22. Stark County is no different than the rest of Ohio, where the virus has been considered “widespread.”
    INFLUENZA B STRAIN
    The flu season typically runs from October through May. Symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and a dry cough.
    The flu, which may mimic the same symptoms as the common cold, is typically more severe.
    Rich Lyon, infection control coordinator at Mercy Medical Center, said the early influx may be due to a sub-strain of the Influenza B virus that the flu vaccine does not protect against.
    “It’s part of the culprit,” Lyon said. “We have been seeing people across the state who got the flu shot, but were infected.”
    Lyon said half the people admitted to Mercy Medical Center’s emergency room Saturday and Sunday were being treated for the flu or flu-like symptoms.
    “It was not anywhere near that last week,” Lyon said.
    Mercy and Aultman hospitals recently posted signs asking that visitors 14 years or younger be kept at home, Lyon said.
    Even though the flu shot may not be guarding against a sub-strain, it is the most effective way to prevent the flu virus. Most insurance companies cover the cost of the flu vaccine, which typically costs $25 without insurance. There is an adequate supply of the vaccine to meet the anticipated needs of county residents at this time, Adams said.
    Page 2 of 2 - “It’s a vaccine-preventable disease,” he said. “But if you do have it, you should stay home when you’re sick. We also ask that everyone wash their hands.”
    How to prevent flu
    • Get an annual flu vaccine, which protects against the three most common strains of the flu. The vaccine is available for people six months of age and older.   
    • Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water (or an alcohol-based hand rub).
    • Avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth.
    • Stay home when ill and avoid others who may be sick.
    • Take antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them. Antiviral drugs, which are not available over the counter, can make the illness milder and shorten the period you are sick.
    SOURCES: Canton City Health Department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention