CLEVELAND, Ohio– Two Cuyahoga County residents died of flu-related illness in the past week, amid an uptick in flu cases, emergency room visits and hospitalizations, the County Board of Health reported today.
A 52-year old Cleveland man and a 76-year-old Broadview Heights man died. There have been no pediatric deaths in Ohio so far this flu season, and 13 children have died of flu nationwide.
There were 97 new confirmed-flu associated hospitalizations in the county in the two weeks ending December 29th, the most recent data available, and 142 hospitalizations since flu season began in October. There were 3,633 total flu-associated hospitalizations in the 2015-2016 season, and 9,374 in the 2014-2015 season.
The county’s flu activity climbed to “moderate” in the week ending Dec. 29, up from “minimal” in the weeks before.
“Our peak for hospitalizations for the past five years has been around this time of year,” said Richard Stacklin, data analyst with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.
There were also 383 emergency department visits due to flu-like illness last week, which is higher than the average reported over the past five years, Stacklin said. Emergency department visits doubled from three weeks ago.
Flu season, which runs from October through April, typically peaks from January to March.
Last year’s flu season was particularly severe, with 80,000 flu-related deaths reported across the country. In most flu seasons, there are between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths nationwide. Cuyahoga County last year also had a record number of hospitalizations, with 2,781, nearly double the previous record set during the 2014-2015 season. There were 47 flu deaths in the county last year.
It’s not too late to get a flu shot, Stacklin said: “It’s the best thing that we have to protect people.” It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to provide maximal protection.
In any given flu season, vaccination reduces the risk of flu by 40 to 60 percent, according to the CDC. This year, the CDC has reported that 75 percent of tests for flu have turned up the H1N1 strain. Though it’s too soon to tell, Stacklin says this year’s vaccine “looks to be a pretty good match” to the predominant strains of flu circulating.
Influenza symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Flu can become deadly when it progresses to pneumonia and respiratory failure.
Health officials recommend staying home if you have flu symptoms, even if you think you can manage going out. “You may be able to power through it, but there may be someone in your office, or someone you walk by who [has a weakened immune system] and you may get them sick to the point they have to be hospitalized,” Stacklin said.
The age groups experiencing the highest rates of hospitalization right now are in the 50-59 year-old range and children under the age of 10 years old.
“That’s something to keep in mind because people in their 50′s often think they won’t get sick,” Stacklin said. But people in this age group often take care of children or elderly relatives, who are at increased risk of becoming severely ill from flu, he said.