Northland News

Locals concerned about national flu outbreak

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Columbus Public Health officials are closely watching an increase in influenza activity that started in the South and has quickly has moved to other parts of the county.

While central Ohio largely has not been affected by the recent outbreak of H1N1 -- commonly known as the swine flu -- and ph1N1, there has been an uptick in the number of flu-related hospitalizations, said Jose Rodriguez, spokesman for the health department.

He said there were 10 local hospitalizations attributed to influenza from Dec. 15-22.

"We know those are likely serious complications," he said.

In mid-December, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said high levels of influenza-like illnesses had been reported in four states, mostly in the south-central and southeastern U.S. That number quickly jumped to 10 and includes states close to Ohio, including Pennsylvania and New York.

Further complicating matters nationally is the ph1N1virus, which emerged in 2009 and is the most widely circulating virus so far this season, causing more illnesses in children and young adults.

The good news is that the latest vaccine protects against both viruses.

"Complications from influenza can be very serious," Public Health Commissioner Dr. Teresa Long said. "Getting your flu shot is the best protection we have against the flu."

It's also that time of year when influenza cases are on the rise, Rodriguez said. The weather is colder, so people spend more time indoors, coupled with holiday revelry and travel.

"It's not unusual," Rodriguez said. "This is the beginning of the flu season. We typically see a spike after Christmas and New Year's."

Other than vaccinations, people can help prevent the spread of the virus: Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, frequently wash your hands, stay home if you're sick and get a flu shot.

It's impossible to predict how the disease will spread, Rodriguez said.

"It changes from week to week," he said.

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