In response to news that flu activity in Ohio is now widespread, the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Aging urge older Ohioans and their families to be aware of seniors’ elevated risk of complications from flu and take steps to prevent its spread.
“For many reasons, older adults are more likely than younger adults to experience the flu and its complications,” said Dr. Clint Koenig, Medical Director of the Ohio Department of Health. “The flu can make existing health problems worse and can be particularly dangerous for the 80 percent of older Ohioans who have at least one chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease.”
“Flu prevention is not just a personal health issue. It is a public health priority,” said Beverley Laubert, interim director of the Department of Aging. “Older adults and those who spend time with them can do a lot to stave off flu and flu-related complications so that they can continue to grow, thrive and contribute.”
In Champaign County
Twenty Champaign County residents have been hospitalized with the flu so far this season, according to the local health district. These hospitalizations could have been anywhere in the state. Hospitals report into a statewide disease database and note patients’ counties.
County residents hospitalized have been from 4 months to 90 years old.
Gabe Jones of the local health district said flu is only reportable to authorities when people are hospitalized, so he is unsure how many county residents have the flu, but said indications are that it’s widespread throughout the county.
In comparison, he said at this time last year there had been no county residents hospitalized with the flu.
Flu season generally has a big spike, then a lower one, Jones explained. There was a large one in late December and it hasn’t yet subsided.
Last year’s spike was late February to early March, with 56 county residents hospitalized and two flu deaths reported during last year’s flu season.
The county health district is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. People can walk in without appointment to get flu vaccines and it’s covered by most insurance. For those uninsured or who can’t pay, “we’ll still get you vaccinated,” Jones said.
The district also has the vaccine designed for people age 65 and older.
“The number one way to prevent getting the flu is getting a shot. Even if you get the flu, symptoms will be more mild. Get your flu shot, if not here, at a local pharmacy or family doctor,” Jones said. “The best way to prevent the spread of the flu is by not having the flu in the first place.”
What is the flu?
Flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It can cause mild to severe illness and, in some cases, can lead to death. Flu viruses are spread from person to person by coughing and sneezing or through surfaces. Symptoms of the flu may come on quickly and may include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Tips to minimize your risk of getting and spreading the flu:
-Get a flu shot. Even though we are already well into the flu season, there is still plenty of time to benefit from a flu shot. Ask about special high-dose vaccines specifically for older adults.
-Maintain good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, manage stress and be as physically active as is appropriate for you. Drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritional foods.
-Wash your hands. Scrubbing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds can kill most of the flu viruses your hands encounter. When you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands.
-Limit your contact. Avoid contact with people who may be ill with the flu, as well as surfaces they may have touched. Likewise, if you feel you may have the flu, limit the time you spend with others until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of medicine. Call ahead to places like doctor’s offices, nursing homes and senior centers to see if they have special visitation restrictions for those who have flu-like symptoms.
-Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away immediately and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, then wash any affected skin immediately.
If you get the flu, proper care can lessen symptoms and decrease the time you are ill and able to infect others. Stay at home and get plenty of rest. Drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost through fever and sweating. Talk to your medical provider about medicines you can take to manage your symptoms and how they may interact with other medicines you take.
Visit www.flu.ohio.gov for information and resources to help you fight the flu.