Flu season is already well under way in Ohio, but it’s going to peak this February, according to local health officials who are reminding the public it’s not too late for the flu shot.
This is much earlier than last year’s season, which didn’t peak until March before subsiding.
“Last year was very mild,” said Chris Cook, Madison County’s health commissioner. “I always get scared whenever there’s a mild flu season, because typically the uptake of vaccines the next year drops.”
And it seems this may be the case.
A report published Wednesday by the state health department says 287 people were hospitalized for the flu during the first week of January. Although this season has been lower than the five-year average for hospitalization so far, that number is rapidly climbing to meet and, possibly, surpass the average.
“In Ohio we’re considered ‘wide-spread’ of influenza,” Cook said. “In the next coming weeks we’re going to see more and more of it.”
Despite the easy access and low cost of the vaccine, many refuse to get the flu shot because of myths and urban legends that say it’s unsafe. Some argue that they’ll get sick from getting a flu shot.
Cook says it’s akin to science fiction.
“If people believe that the flu vaccine can give them the flu, then they also must truly believe zombies are real,” he said. “I say that because, you’re being injected with something that’s dead. And if you believe that something dead injected into you can come back alive then you must believe in zombies, too, because that’s not possible. It cannot cause the flu.”
Cook also addressed a number of cases in which vaccines “injured” someone. One famous case was of a high school girl in Virginia who ended up struggling to walk after getting the vaccine. ABC News later did a follow up to the story and found she had been faking it the whole time.
A more infamous myth is the idea that vaccines can cause autism.
“Plenty of people have this junk science out there, but studies have shown over and over again that there’s no link between vaccines and autism,” said Cook.
The flu itself doesn’t usually kill people directly. Pneumonia or some other condition is aggravated which does end up killing a person. Last year, in 92 percent of adult hospitalizations, patients had a prior condition that could be made worse with the flu. The vast majority had obesity, cardiovascular problems or diabetes.
“It’s more important for those people to get the vaccine,” said Cook.
An average of 36,000 people die from complications related to them getting the flu each year in the United States. Older adults aged 65 and older, as well as children, are more susceptible.
Last year, 52 percent of child hospitalizations from the flu didn’t involve another condition. They were relatively considered healthy, which Cook said showed all the more reason to get children vaccinated.
Last year, about 70 children died nationwide. The average age was six years old. However, this year’s strain might lead to more concerns for all of the population.
“With the H3N2 [strain of the] virus, illness rates and death rates are typically doubled. And wouldn’t you know, what’s circulating this year?” said Cook. “H3N2 is the circulating strain this year. Good news, the strain is in this year’s vaccine.”
Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including pharmacies at local grocery stores. The Madison County/London City Health District has vaccines available for $26. High-dose shots for seniors are available for $47. Check to see if your insurance covers the cost.
The office can be reached at 740-852-3065 or stop in at 306 Lafayette St., London.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.