Flu on rise locally

Flu season is here, and the number of cases are increasing, according to the Ohio Department of Health, which reported 338 cases of flu-related hospitalizations so far this year. Most of those cases have been in the northeast area of the state, but local health departments have received some reports of the virus.

“We’ve had some cases in this area, although they’re only reported to us if someone is hospitalized with the flu,” said Jonni Tucker, public health nurse with the Marietta City Health Department.

She said the department has been administering flu vaccinations since September, but requests for the immunizations have increased recently, possibly due to warnings issued by ODH earlier this month.

Dariene Gregor, 18, of Marietta was among those receiving flu shots at the health department Monday afternoon.

“I’m a student in the medical program at the Washington County Career Center and will begin doing my clinicals with the Memorial Health System this year, so I need the shot for protection from any patients that may have the flu,” she said.

Health care workers are among those encouraged to receive the vaccine, according to Vickie Kelly, director of nursing for the city health department. Those at highest risk for complications from the flu include children 6 months of age or younger, pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions and the elderly.

“The seasonal flu is a respiratory illness, and does not usually include diarrhea and vomiting,” she said. “Symptoms can include fever and chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headaches and a runny or stuffy nose.”

Kelly said the flu can lead to more serious conditions.

“Our main concern is always that the virus will settle in the lungs and become pneumonia,” she said. “That’s especially a risk for the very young and elderly people.”

Paige Smith, director of the emergency department and urgent care facilities at Marietta Memorial Hospital, confirmed there have been several cases of the flu treated in the ER recently.

“It’s not rampant, but we have seen at least six or eight cases over the last couple of weeks,” she said. “The symptoms are what we normally see with seasonal flu-high fever, body aches, coughs and congestion.”

Smith said there are usually two peak times when the hospital sees more flu patients.

“One peak comes in October and November, but the biggest peak usually comes during January and February,” she said. “We see it in all age groups. The flu hits everyone. That’s why we encourage people to get the flu vaccine every year.”

According to the state health department, most of the flu now circulating is H1N1, which has a greater impact on younger and middle-aged people. But ODH added that as the season continues other viruses may become more prominent.

This season’s vaccine contains both H1N1 and three other seasonal flu strains designed to provide greater protection from multiple flu types.

“It’s not too late to receive a shot and protect yourself and others against the flu,” Smith said.

She noted that, once administered, the vaccine usually takes from seven to 10 days to become fully effective.

Flu immunizations are available at the Marietta and Washington County health departments, as well as from most pharmacies and personal physicians.