Widespread flu in Ohio demands widespread use of influenza vaccinations

Disturbing news released last week from the Ohio Department of Health that the number of flu hospitalizations in the state has increased 470 percent so far this season over 2016-17 levels reinforces the need for everyone to follow the agency’s sage advice: Protect yourselves.

The best means to do so, of course, is through the simple and painless flu vaccine.

The ODH reports seasonal influenza activity has been upgraded to its highest level of widespread with hospitalizations much more numerous than last season. As of the last week of December, 2,104 people have required hospital treatment in Ohio, compared with only 369 by early January 2017.

What’s worse, Northeast Ohio has the second-highest total of cases – 200 – among the seven regions monitored. In the Mahoning Valley, 59 people have been hospitalized with flu symptoms this season, according to ODH data.

Even though for many the flu bug represents relatively minor aches, pains and inconveniences, for others – particularly children and adults over 65 with compromised immune systems – it’s clearly a matter of life and death.

That’s why proactive strategies represent the best practical defense. A primary tool in that defense remains the influenza vaccine, which changes every year to better match new strains of influenza on the attack.

Curiously, however, a majority of Americans continue to roll the dice by opting out of the shot that health leaders report is 60 percent to 80 percent effective in warding off any flu symptoms.

As Sietske de Fijter, chief of the Ohio Bureau of Infectious Diseases and the state epidemiologist, put it, “Vaccination is the safest and most effective way to prevent the flu. ... Vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits and missed work and school.”

Although most people fully recover from the flu, some experience severe illness such as pneumonia and respiratory failure, and the flu can be fatal.

One bright spot this year is that no children have died thus far in Ohio. Last season, two Columbiana County youngsters were among a half-dozen children who died of influenza symptoms.


Toward avoiding or minimizing the aggravation and disruption that the flu invites, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these other common-sense tips:

Avoid close contact with people who have the flu. When you are sick, keep your distance from others.

If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

Wash your hands often to ward off germs. If soap and warm water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Such advice remains timely as the influenza season is reaching its zenith in our state. It’s still not too late to protect yourself from the potentially devastating consequences of this season’s pernicious influenza bug.

That begins by getting your flu vaccine – sooner rather than later.

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