Get a shot, strap on a mask, stop at the door: Health officials are urging precautions amid an early season flu surge.
The University of Toledo Medical Center offers masks to protect people from coughs. At local nursing and rehabilitation centers, signs ask sick people not to enter. Health officials advise residents to get flu vaccines, which they said are available.
The steps aim to prevent influenza’s spread. Michigan and Ohio saw big numbers of flu cases arrive earlier than usual this season.
“I don’t want people to think that it’s too late for them to get a vaccination,” said Dr. Mary DiOrio, epidemiologist with the Ohio Department of Health. “We have not been informed that there are any shortages that are significant.”
At least a couple of local doctors’ offices have reported limited vaccine supplies, including the private practice of Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County health commissioner. For months, he has told people to get a vaccine, and now that his stock is depleted, he is sending people elsewhere for vaccination.
The flu, a contagious respiratory illness, is caused by influenza viruses. The flu differs from a cold and typically hits quickly.
Dr. John McBride of Franklin Park Pediatrics said his practice dispensed about 1,800 doses to those with insurance and has had to reorder to keep up with demand. His office is among those that also provide vaccines for uninsured or Medicaid patients through the Vaccines for Children Program. The federally funded vaccines cannot be distributed to noneligible patients, officials said.
Kroger Co. spokesman Jackie Siekmann said more than 700 flu shots have been dispensed per store for Toledo-area Kroger locations since August. That’s the most activity for the retailer’s flu-shot program since 2009, and it ordered 2,000 more vaccine doses for the Toledo area that are expected to arrive today, she said.
The Wood County Health District gave 699 flu vaccines from October through the end of December, down from 847 during the same time period the year before. Spokesman Pat Snyder said the district might “at some point” run out of a nasal-spray flu vaccine, but she said the district has “sufficient doses” of flu shots. Health department vaccine numbers have decreased as more retailers provide the service, officials said.
Angela Minicuci, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health, said supplies are low at some pharmacies and retailers, though sites can reorder.
“There’s not a shortage of the flu vaccine. The demand is so high, some pharmacies, some retailers just didn’t have enough in stock,” she said.
Four Michigan children died this season from flu-related illnesses. Ohio has reported no pediatric deaths, but has had 1,230 flu-related hospitalizations through Dec. 29.
ProMedica spokesman Jared Meade said 287 people went to Toledo Hospital and Toledo Children’s Hospital with flulike symptoms from Jan. 1 through Wednesday. At Flower Hospital, the emergency room treated 152 patients with symptoms over the same period. UTMC, the former Medical College of Ohio, formed a “flu team” made up of physicians and others to monitor its response, and offers masks and easy access to hand sanitizer, said Kris Brickman, emergency department medical director.
Other facilities are taking precautions. Franciscan Care Center in Sylvania Township asks visitors to refrain from coming if they suffer from flu symptoms. Staff members are instructed to wash hands regularly, and masks are available for those who want one, administrator Jill Schlievert said.
The Laurels of Toledo, a nursing and rehabilitation center on Byrne Road, has posted signs asking families not to visit if they are ill. Administrator Edward Beatrice said the center’s patients haven’t been hit by the flu so far, although some staff have fallen ill.
The student health center at Bowling Green State University reported a typical number of students with flulike illnesses for this time of year, a spokesman said.
Staff writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.
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