The 2012-13 seasonal influenza, originating in the United States in the southern states, from Texas to Georgia and up into Tennessee, has arrived in Ohio.
And travel during the upcoming holiday season could spread the disease to all parts of the country, particularly if people don’t get the flu vaccine before they leave, public health officials say.
Some of that occurred over the Thanksgiving holiday, but more is expected over the Christmas and New Year holidays, said Dr. John Venglarcik III, medical director for the Mahoning County District Board of Health.
The good news is that spread of the flu can be blunted by the flu vaccine.
The vaccine protection kicks in within two weeks after getting the shot or nasal mist. This year’s vaccine is effective against the strains of flu being reported, said Diana M. Colaianni, director of the county health department’s nursing division.
Because the vaccine covers the strains of flu developing, it is thought that it will be particularly effective in preventing the flu or resulting in a less-severe case if the flu does develop, Dr. Venglarcik said.
The flu has arrived in Ohio, said Tess Pollock, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, which tracks influenza-related hospitalizations, such as pneumonia, which are reported voluntarily, and flu-related pediatric deaths, which are required to be reported.
The flu is more widespread than normal this early in the season, but no flu-related deaths had been reported in Ohio as of Tuesday, Pollock said.
Despite there being no flu-related deaths in Ohio, the deaths of a couple of children elsewhere has people concerned, and they are calling the health department wanting the vaccine, Colaianni said.
Because the demand is increasing, she said the county health department will order more vaccine and schedule more flu-shot clinics.
Colaianni said it is important to get the vaccine, especially for people who are going to be around infants 6 months and under, for whom there is not a vaccine, and the elderly.
Children and the elderly are the most-vulnerable populations, and caregivers need to stay healthy for their own sakes and the safety of those for whom they care, she said.
Colaianni said it is a myth that people are infected with the flu by the vaccine. It contains attenuated (dead) vaccine that has just enough spark to kick-start the body’s immune system, but will not cause the flu.
If someone wants a flu shot, they can call the county health department at 330-270-2855, ext. 125, to make an appointment, she said. The vaccine and nasal mist are available, as is the high-dose shot for seniors.
The best defense against getting the flu is the vaccine. The best defense against spreading the disease is to wash hands often, cough or sneeze into the crook of the elbow and stay home if you are sick, Dr. Venglarcik said.
“If you are going to get a shot, now is the time. Don’t put it off,” he added.