Residents advised to take flu precautions

With this year’s flu season experiencing some of the most severe cases in recent years, doctors are advising residents to take extra precautions to avoid falling ill.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report for the week ending Jan. 13, the influenza virus has been widespread throughout 49 states (Hawaii being the exception) and Puerto Rico. Many of those hospitalized had the H3N2 virus strain — this season’s most dominant strain which has caused more hospitalizations and deaths this year.

In the report, more than 14,400 new laboratory-confirmed cases were reported last week, with more than 74,500 cases reported this season. The influenza virus was responsible for 31.5 hospitalizations for every 100,000 people last week, an increase from the week before’s count of 22.7 per 100,000.

And thus far this season, 30 children have died from the virus — 10 reported just last week.

Flu cases have also been increasing the past week. According to the CDC’s report from last week, West Virginia and Ohio are among 33 states where flu cases are high, while cases in Pennsylvania were reported moderate.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reported on Jan. 10 that more than 1,750 new confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations took place in the state in the first week of January, nearly double (925) from a month before, and now more than 3,800 since flu season started in October.

Locally, in Columbiana County, flu cases have seen a dramatic increase this year compared to two years ago. According to statistics from the Columbiana County Health Department, the first week of December 2015 (Dec. 6-12) saw 12 hospitalizations, the second week (Dec. 13-19) had 19, and the final week (Dec. 27-Jan.1) recorded 11.

As for December 2017, the first week (Dec. 3-9) saw 144 hospitalizations, another 228 in the second week (Dec. 10-16) and it was at 554 in the third week (Dec. 17-23).

Dr. Tae Jung, a doctor based in Calcutta, said Friday the rising increases in the flu virus and its widespread travel are causes for concern, and something the community should take seriously this year.

“Influenza usually mutates, and they mutate in certain areas and chains, and when it mutates, we don’t know how it ends,” Jung said. “Scientists are just looking at why this H3N2 virus is so fatal compared to other ones.”

Jung said scientists may come up with conclusions by the end of flu season in April, but in the meantime, he advised area residents that flu vaccines are still available as a way to protect themselves.

The ODH reported vaccine effectiveness against the H3N2 viruses have been around 30 percent, while influenza B viruses is around 50 percent. It also reported that vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from the virus.

“It’s not too late to get the influenza vaccine, and there’s a lot of word that it’s 10 percent effective or not effective at all,” Jung said. “The 10 percent might make a difference between getting sick at home versus getting admitted to ICU.”

The doctor also suggests to also practice daily hygiene, including hand-washing, and also suggests residents visit their doctor to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

Should anyone experience any fevers, they should contact their doctor within 24 hours of the symptoms happening, Jung suggested.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health websites for more information.