Northwest News

Volatile flu season continues to cause grief

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The unpredictability of the flu season is rearing its ugly head.

When it appeared influenza-associated illnesses and hospitalizations were trending down after the holidays, some indicators have increased -- while others have decreased -- since then, health officials said last week.

That means central Ohioans aren't out of the woods yet, said Jose Rodriguez, spokesman for Columbus Public Health.

"We continue to see changes on a weekly basis," he said. "We're still at the beginning of the peak of the flu season so we don't know where we might end up in the next few weeks."

According to the most recent data compiled through Jan. 12, the percentage of emergency-room visits for influenza-like illness and respiratory symptoms both decreased compared to the previous week.

Yet the percentages in each of those categories are similar to their weekly historical baseline averages.

However, trends for all local over-the-counter medication sales -- cough and cold, electrolytes, thermometers and the like -- increased from the previous week.

"We will continue to monitor the numbers closely," Rodriguez said. "We do not know if we have hit the peak locally."

Following a national trend, Columbus had seen an early flu season and a spike in hospitalizations for the flu.

Roughly 84 percent of the local infections involve the more virulent H3N2, accounting for more hospitalizations, Rodriguez said.

Nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90 percent of the deaths have been seniors and the hospital rate for seniors with confirmed flu cases was up sharply over the past week to 82 per 100,000.

Pediatric deaths increased by nine last week, bringing the total to 29. The CDC said 48 states reported widespread influenza activity recently.

With some exceptions, most notably in the West, fewer states reported influenza at a "high level" and the season was said to be at about its halfway point.

There's some promising news on the vaccination front.

Flublok, which does not require eggs in the manufacturing process, just won regulatory approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

With limited availability to people ages 18-49, Flublok might be an attractive option to those who didn't get a vaccination because of egg allergies.

Meanwhile, preventative actions -- covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick, washing hands and getting the flu vaccine -- are strongly encouraged.

"There's still plenty of vaccine available," Rodriguez said.

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