Recent news that a fifth Lucas County person has died of influenza-associated complications drives home public health officials’ message that this year’s flu season is not to be taken lightly.
The family of 71-year-old Michael Orwig said he died Jan. 11 at the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio hospital, after coming down with flu and suffering a heart attack, although county health officials could not immediately confirm without a death certificate.
Nurse practitioner Amy Spangler holds a flu shot behind her back at Mercy Health in Sylvania, Ohio Jan. 11.
According to the certificate, influenza A was the tertiary cause of Mr. Orwig’s death, said health department spokesman Shannon Lands. The primary cause was cardio-pulmonary arrest, followed by sepsis, she said.
“We are saying the flu may have been a factor, not a primary cause,” she said of Mr. Owrig’s inclusion as a flu-related death. “We will include it because it was a contributing factor ... if flu is listed on the death certificate, we will include it.”
Four adults and an 18-month-old boy in Lucas County were determined to have influenza that contributed to their death this season. The child was one of three pediatric deaths recorded in the state through Jan. 13.
The last time Lucas County recorded this many flu fatalities was 2013-2014, when five people died at the same point in the season.
But the number of flu deaths in Ohio and the United States is just an estimate.
The Ohio Department of Health does not report adult flu deaths as it is not data that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collects, said department spokesman Melanie Amato.
Reporting pediatric deaths has been required since 2005 in Ohio. Hospitals are also required to report flu-related hospitalizations to their local public health departments, which in turn must report them to the state health department.
Ms. Amato said some local departments do track adult deaths for monitoring purposes.
Ms. Lands said when flu is listed as a primary cause or “a contributing factor” on a person’s death certificate, it is added to the Lucas County tally. Hospitals will often notify the department of an adult fatality, or the department’s vital statistics staff will flag a death certificate with flu as one of the causes.
The CDC estimates influenza causes “between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations, and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually since 2010,” according to its website.
When announcing the first three adult deaths earlier this month, Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski again urged the public to take the flu seriously, as he did just days before when discussing the death of an 18-month old Toledo boy. The adults, as with Mr. Orwig, all had underlying health conditions.
Hospitalizations continue to outpace recent years. In Lucas County 271 hospitalizations have taken place since October, up from 38 at this point last season and 14 in 2015-2016, according to health department data.
Both were mild compared with 2014-2015, when 290 hospitalizations were recorded at the same point in the season.
A similar scene is playing out across Ohio, where 5,373 hospitalizations have been reported through Jan. 13, according to the state health department.
Certain populations — including young children, the elderly, those with existing medical conditions and compromised immune systems — are more susceptible to serious complications with the flu.
“We’re still urging folks to get their flu shot,” Ms. Lands said. “Hand-washing is a big one. If you're not sure what's going on, call your doctor.”
Flu shots are also available at the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, area pharmacies, and physician offices. Find a nearby location at cdc.gov/flu/freeresources/flu-finder-widget.html.
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