XENIA — Greene County Public Health (GCPH) officials report 134 confirmed cases of hospitalized flu in Greene County in the last six months.
That number could be higher now, as increased reporting may have caused a lag in the health department receiving reports. The reported data represents cases from July 1, 2017 through Jan. 14. The data is ongoing.
According to Don Brannen, PhD, community epidemiologist for GCPH, flu season in Greene County usually begins around week 47 of the year — Nov. 19, 2017 — and ends around week 17 — Saturday, April 28 this year.
“If persons come down with the flu, have them treated early with Tamiflu to avoid complications, like hospitalizations,” Brannen said.
Brannen said this season seems similar to the 2014-2015 season, which saw 210 hospitalized cases, the most reported in the last five years.
Dr. Ginger Cameron, assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Cedarville University, said this year’s flu is the A type, which she said is considered the deadliest type.
According to Cameron, there are four main types of flu: A, B, C, and D. Influenza D doesn’t affect humans. Influenza C isn’t deadly. But Influenza A and B are deadly.
“Within those, there’s 144 sub-types of Influenza A. So they have to use records and tracking to monitor and decide which ones we think are going to be most likely that this is what we’re going to get this year and we can only vaccinate against two or three total. So when you’re thinking about a traditional vaccine, you’re only getting vaccinated against two, three — on some vaccines, four strains — out of hundreds of possibilities. And so it makes it more difficult for us to always get it right,” she said.
Dr. William Brady, emergency department physician at Soin Medical Center in Beavercreek, agreed that this has been a difficult year for the flu, despite patients getting vaccinated.
“In the ER, especially the last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January, we’ve seen a significant increase in Influenza A and a small portion of Influenza B,” he said. “This is complicated by the holidays, when people are getting together and spreading the flu around.”
Although cases have increased from last year, he said, he has seen similar flu outbreaks in the past.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in past flu seasons when the match between flu vaccine and circulating strains of flu virus is close, a flu shot is between 60 to 70 percent effective.
Cameron added that the primary function of the flu vaccine is to prevent hospitalization and death, not necessarily to prevent patients from getting the flu.
“So even if you got it, if you don’t end up hospitalized or you don’t die then the vaccine has truly done its job,” she said.
Persons with mild and controlled symptoms of the flu can visit their family physician. If a person is suffering from shortness of breath, has symptoms that aren’t controlled by over-the-counter medicine, or has chronic medical problems, he/she should go to the hospital.
The flu becomes more serious and even deadly when it develops into pneumonia and sepsis, according to Cameron.
“Watch for signs that it is developing into something more serious,” she said.
Brady said it is not too late to get a flu shot.
The CDC recommends annual flu vaccinations for everyone age 6 months or older. People at high risk of flu complications include pregnant women, older adults, young children and people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, cerebral palsy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, kidney or liver disease, muscular dystrophy, obesity or sickle cell disease.
According to the GCPH website, persons should check with their doctor before receiving a flu vaccine if they’re allergic or sensitive to eggs or have had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. The flu vaccine cannot give persons the flu, but may cause one to develop flu-like symptoms. Residents should also remember that it takes about two weeks for the flu shot to take full effect. Other diseases like the common cold produce flu-like symptoms.
Individuals can protect themselves from the flu by washing hands often, using alcohol-based sanitizer, avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth and avoiding crowds. Persons who already have the flu can help prevent the spread of the illness by staying home and allowing time to recover, covering their mouths and not sharing drinks.