Cover your mouth and stock up on tissues. It’s that time of year again.
Local health departments have seen an uptick in reported flu cases.
Flu season typically runs from October to March. During the week of Dec. 15-21, the latest week data is available, Stark County had 22 reported cases of hospitalized and non-hospitalized influenza. The county had 13 reported causes during the same week last year.
Of those 22 cases, 11 were hospitalized.
That brought the total so far this season to 53 reported cases, up from 35 reported cases at the same time last year.
Every U.S. state is reporting widespread or regional influenza activity, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Ohio, influenza is widespread, and the state is seeing moderate rates of influenza-like illness.
The local uptick follows what has been a slow season so far in Stark County, said Avinash Joseph, communicable disease epidemiologist at the Stark County Health Department.
This flu season has been unique in other ways.
The majority of confirmed influenza cases in Stark County, 59.2%, were influenza B virus.
That type of influenza typically is not the prevalent virus until late in flu season, said Amanda Archer, an epidemiologist with Canton City Public Health.
“It’s really strange,” she said.
The appearance of influenza B virus so early might be why hospitalization rates have been low in Stark County so far this season, she said.
Influenza B is believed to cause less severe symptoms than Influenza A. It’s possible that more people are getting sick but aren’t experiencing symptoms severe enough to be hospitalized, she said.
Hospitals are required to report influenza cases requiring admission to the health department, but doctors offices and other health care providers report voluntarily. Local health departments look at other sources of data, like school absentee rates, to get a bigger picture of influenza activity, Archer said.
The median age of those hospitalized in Stark County for influenza was 28.5.
Typically, it’s the very young and the elderly who are hospitalized, Joseph said.
As flu season stretches on and more people contract the virus, that median age is expected to rise, he said.
How to stay healthy
According to the CDC, symptoms of the flu include:
• Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
• Sore throat
• Runny nose
•Muscle aches/body aches and headache
• In some cases, primarily in children, vomiting or diarrhea
Influenza has some of the same symptoms as a cold or respiratory illness, but is more severe and comes on quickly.
We tend to use “flu” as a catch-all term for other illnesses, Archer said.
“When you have influenza, you know it,” she said.
Both Archer and Joseph emphasize the importance of getting a flu vaccine.
“We recommend that anyone get it at anytime in flu season. There’s no such thing as too late,” Archer said.
With some rare exceptions, everyone 6 months old and older should receive a flu vaccine every year, according to the CDC.
It’s especially important for those at high risk of flu complications to receive a vaccine, including those who are 65 and older, those who have chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and children younger than 5, according to the CDC.
You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.
To avoid spreading germs, you should also practice good “’hand hygiene” and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly, Joseph said.
“It’s really a matter of doing everything our mom taught us,” Archer said.
Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and stay home from work and school if you’re sick, she said.
“Rest and take care of yourself,” she said.
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