Locally, flu season started early and has gotten worse quickly
By Shannon Harsh, The Review, Published January 9, 2013
We have barely scratched the surface of 2013, but the flu season has already been in full swing.
"This is the worst flu season I have seen in the 12 years since I've been doing this job," said Tonia Martin, RN, BSN, infection preventionist at Alliance Community Hospital. "It started very early for us. There have been a lot more hospitalizations than we've ever had, a lot more emergency room visits, a lot of staff illness, people from the community calling in, things like that."
According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODOH), Ohio's flu activity is at an unusually high level and is considered widespread, meaning the outbreaks have happened in at least half the Ohio regions. The ODOH reported that influenza-related hospitalizations were nearly triple the usual amount by the end of December. Ohio's flu season typically doesn't pick up until January or February, according to the ODOH.
Martin said she hasn't heard any theories yet as to why the season's been so bad, but she found it surprising following a flu season that was down last year. "Last year we didn't see hardly any flu at all. It was much slower than previous years," she recalled.
Seasonal influenza is a virus that causes headache, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and tiredness that is often accompanied by fever, chills and body aches. While most people will recover from the flu, it can also lead to hospitalizations and even death, particularly in those at high risk, such has children, elderly and those with chronic medical conditions.
Martin explained that hospitalizations and deaths are actually caused by conditions related to the influenza, such as pneumonia or exacerbation of a chronic lung disease. "The influenza isn't actually what causes the hospitalization, it's the complications related to having the flu."
While the only cure for the flu is to allow your immune system to fight it off over time, Martin said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendation to help during treatment is the prescription medication Tamiflu, which she described as an "antibiotic made for viruses."
Otherwise, Martin said the most important thing to do during a bout of the flu is supportive care -- rest and fluids -- and symptom relief, such as cough medicine and analgesics for the pain.
"If you get sick, support your body and let your body do what it's made to do," she added.
Martin also stressed the importance of preventive measures, such as getting the flu vaccination. She said vaccines, which contain three strains of the flu, usually two A and one B strains, are still being recommended by the CDC. Even if they don't prevent the flu, Martin said they can help lessen the effects or duration and can help build up immunities for future years.
Martin said it is also important to have good hand washing habits and avoid touching the face to help prevent the spread of flu. "You are contagious with the flu before you ever start to show symptoms, and with children, it's an even longer period of time than adults," she added.
The flu season typically runs through the end of March.