But a lack of influenza hasn't meant a lack of illness like whooping cough.

Influenza might be making a late arrival in Stark County this year, but it's still the season for coughing and congestion.

Flu season typically runs October through March. As of the first week of January, the latest week data is available, Stark had 60 reported cases this season.

That's down from 584 cases during the same period last year. That first week, Stark had 17 reported cases of influenza, nine of which were hospitalized, compared to 209 cases during the same week last year.

A decrease of more than 500 cases is significant but not uncommon as flu seasons vary in intensity.

"We seem to kind of go through these ebbs and flows. We have these quieter seasons and then we get hit with something big," said Amanda Archer, an epidemiologist with Canton City Public Health.

It's also possible this year's flu season is more mild, so folks aren't seeking help at a doctor's office or emergency room.

The predominant flu virus this season is H1N1, which tends to cause less severe symptoms, Archer said.

Those who've been vaccinated against the flu have milder symptoms and a shorter illness if they do get sick, she said.

The Stark Public Health Infrastructure Coalition, a joint effort of the Canton and Stark County health departments, compiles weekly reports during flu season. The reports include the number of reported cases, not the total number of people falling ill.

"It doesn't mean that flu's not out there, it means we aren't getting as sick," Archer said.

That could change soon. Flu season tends to peak between December and February, and the illness is considered widespread in Ohio.

"It's picking up slowly," said Dr. Blaise Congeni, director of infectious disease at Akron Children's Hospital.

If you haven't had a flu shot, there's still time to get the vaccination. The vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective.

"Today, you can walk into any pharmacy and get it," Archer said.


An absence of influenza hasn't meant an absence of sickness.

According to Coalition data, Stark's emergency departments and stat cares have seen an increase in visits for "respiratory and constitutional syndromes." Illnesses with symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, headaches and congestion. The percentage of visits for those syndromes is higher than the multi-year average.

A mild flu season means that other illnesses move to the forefront.

"We generally have a saying that RSV and influenza don't like to share the stage," Congeni said.

RSV, short for respiratory syncytial, is a common virus that comes with cold-like symptoms — runny nose, coughing, sneezing and fever.

"Everyone gets infected," with RSV, he said, adding that by age 4 "everyone has had it, whether they know it or not."

You'll continue to contract RSV throughout your life, though often in milder forms, he said.

The virus is typically associated with infants as most people are infected by their second birthday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It usually goes away in a week or two.

But it can have complications. It's most dangerous for young children and the elderly. RSV is the leading cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1, according to the CDC.

There isn't a cure, the illness has to run its course, Congeni said.

If the illness is severe, some people may need to be hospitalized.

Parents should keep an eye on their child's symptoms. In young children, the illness can cause wheezing. If parents see labored or rapid breathing, changes in color and a lack in drinking or eating, they need to seek medical attention.


Health care providers are also seeing an uptick in pertussis, also called whooping cough.

Click play to here what whooping cough sounds like in an infant

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It's a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by a bacteria. It's known for violent coughing fits that can make it difficult to breathe, sometimes causing the infected person to make a "whoop" sound as they try to catch their breath.

Stark County is seeing higher numbers but not enough to classify it as an outbreak, Archer said.

There's a host of reasons why the illness is on the uptick, including lower vaccination rates and the need for a vaccine that lasts longer, Congeni said.

You should be vaccinated against pertussis throughout your life, according to the CDC.

Anyone can get whooping cough, but its most dangerous for infants and can sometimes be deadly.

"If you have it, just even a little bit, you need to see your doctor," Congeni said.

There's no cure for pertussis, and the illness has a long course, but it can be prevented and you can receive treatment to make it non-infectious, he said.

If one family member comes down with the illness, the rest can take preventive treatments to make it less likely they will get sick.

Vaccination can prevent pertussis. Infants won't be vaccinated until their second dose of the vaccine around age 4.5 months, he said.

It's imperative for parents and caregivers to be vaccinated to protect their babies.

"All the showers are great, but getting your shot for pertussis and flu, that's the best gift you can give your baby," Congeni said.

Reach Jessica at 330-580-8322 or jessica.holbrook@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @jholbrookREP.