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Health officials: Flu spreading rapidly

Tom Jackson • Jan 12, 2014 at 7:30 AM

As Ohio’s flu outbreak continues to pick up steam, local scientists who track epidemics are asking everyone to take precautions.

The state health department announced Friday that flu activity in Ohio has become widespread.

There’s good news and bad news about the flu outbreak.

The good news is that it’s not as bad as last year, at least so far. There have been 833 flu-related hospitalizations reported so far in Ohio, compared to 1,922 at this point last year. No flu fatalities have been reported so far this winter.

The bad news, though, is that hospitalizations are rising rapidly. They’ve gone up during the past several weeks, with 301 hospitalizations reported statewide in the first week of 2014, compared to 122 apiece in the last week and penultimate week of 2013.

“This is the point where we want to be thinking about getting out ahead of it, trying to reinforce prevention measures,” said Kelley Bemis, epidemiologist for the Erie County Health Department.

Get a flu shot if you don’t have one already, she advised. Wash your hands, and stay home if you are sick.

“Or keep your kids at home if they are sick” added Katherine Sabourin, epidemiologist for Huron County Public Health. Sneeze in your elbow, not in your hand, to lessen the chance of spreading viruses, she said.

Getting a flu shot is easy, Sabourin said.

“Anywhere that has a pharmacy usually carries flu shots,” she said. “Doctor’s offices usually have them in stock, and we have them here in the health department” Many insurance plans pick up the tab for flu shots. Sabourin told the county’s health board Thursday that three people were hospitalized for the flu in December in Huron County.

They all fell in the 15-40 age range, which is unusual because flu normally hits children and the elderly the hardest, she said. Bemis said two people have been hospitalized for flu in Erie County in the past couple of weeks. She said that while people are getting sick, it’s not an especially bad outbreak. “We would expect to see an increase this time of year” she said. “It’s similar to previous years”

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