More people have gotten flu shots, officials say, because of awareness from last season.Compared to the frenzy surrounding last winter’s H1N1 pandemic, this year’s flu season has been a relatively mild one.
Still, state health officials say the annual flu season, which begins in October and runs through April, is hitting its peak about now. The number of people hospitalized because of influenza per week in Ohio increased from 102 in mid-January to 232 for Feb. 6-12, the most recent week for which the Ohio Department of Health had figures.
Local hospitals say 30 percent or so of the patients they see in their emergency rooms are there primarily because of flulike symptoms with the very young and very old experiencing the most severe problems.
“We have an aging population nationwide and a lot of what we see is people do start to pick up flu and upper respiratory stuff and it exacerbates chronic conditions” such as heart and lung disease or diabetes, said Dr. Rob Wood, an emergency room physician at Toledo Hospital.
“They bring grandma in, who started with sinus congestion and a cough and now she’s having trouble breathing and it’s developing into pneumonia.”
Dr. Wood said the hospital had an increase in flu patients at the end of the year and again in recent weeks. He attributes part of that to weather changes such as the freezing weather followed by a couple of balmy 50-degree days that the area experienced last week.
“Whenever we see big swings in temperature, we tend to see an explosion in the viruses that cause this,” he said.
Patti Fraker, an epidemiologist with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, said that unlike last year, the health department has not received reports of spikes in hospital visits from the flu or high rates of employees out sick with the flu.
“There are indications that the number of people receiving flu shots this year is increased over past years, and the thought is it’s due to increased awareness that resulted from last year’s H1N1 cases,” she said. “That’s considered a positive event, of course.”
She said it’s difficult to say whether more northwest Ohioans got flu shots, which this year protected against the H1N1 virus as well as influenza B, and the H3N2 virus.
“We would hope that would be the case,” Ms. Fraker said, adding, “We always like it to be a slow flu season. That’s always a positive for us because that means less people are affected.”
Benjamin Batey, infectious disease nurse coordinator at the Wood County Health Department, said it’s been “a pretty regular flu season” after last year’s most irregular flu season. Wood County Hospital has been reporting that right around 30 percent of its emergency room patients are complaining of flu symptoms — coughs, sore throats, chest congestion, and body aches.
Sarah Velliquette, spokesman for Mercy Health Partners, said Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, Mercy St. Anne, and Mercy St. Charles hospitals have about the same number of flu patients this year as they did last year.