Flu season in the U.S. has arrived early and has hit patients hard this year, and Ohio is no exception.
Ohio and 30 other states have been experiencing widespread influenza activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the week of Dec. 16, 329 flu-related hospitalizations occurred in the state, while nine reported hospitalizations occurred that same week in 2011.
Peggy Gnizak, an infections control practitioner at EMH Elyria Medical Center, said the hospital has seen a roughly
50 percent increase in patients visiting the emergency room who test positive for upper respiratory influenza.
Patients also began to report flu-like symptoms in November, a month earlier than in past years.
In December, Mercy Allen Hospital in Oberlin had 250 cases of flu, pneumonia and other upper respiratory infections. This represents an increase from last year’s flu season, although Gnizak said 2011 had unusually lower frequency and severity than normal.
This year, the symptoms themselves have been usual for influenza including fever, headaches or physical aches, nausea, cough, fatigue and general malaise.
Sue Szydlowski, a physician assistant at EMH Elyria’s emergency room, has been seeing an average of four to five confirmed influenza A and B cases a day, with the latter having more severe symptoms than average.
Kathryn Boylan, commissioner for the Elyria Health Department, said of 342 cases in the week ending Tuesday, 27 tested positive for influenza A and 20 for influenza B. The week prior had 251 cases, with 17 patients testing positive for A and six for B.
It’s unclear why cases of flu-related hospital visits are elevated this year.
This year’s vaccine, issued by the CDC for strains of influenza A and influenza B, is a relatively effective match, Gnizak said. H1N1 — generally referred to as swine flu — has appeared in only 1 percent of positive tests in the U.S.
In addition to getting vaccinated, the best way to keep influenza from spreading is by proper hygiene. Szydlowski said symptoms are important indicators, because people can be infectious even if he or she tests negative for the virus.
She advised those who may be infected to avoid crowded public areas when possible and avoid contamination through touch. For instance, touching one’s eyes or nose after a visit to a water fountain or cafeteria table can infect a person.
The most crucial practice for everyone?
“Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing,” she said.
Contact Hannah Varadi at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.