The Ohio Department of Health is reporting more incidents of flu-related hospitalizations this year compared to 2019, but some Westerville employers aren't reporting higher than usual absenteeism.
From Jan. 4 to 11, the Ohio Department of Health reported 672 such hospitalizations in Ohio compared to 365 during the same time last year.
Samantha Irons, media-relations manager for Mount Carmel Health System, said the number of patients who tested positive for the flu at Mount Carmel St. Ann's, 500 S. Cleveland Ave. in Westerville, from Jan. 1 to 23 was 143 compared to 105 in December.
At Mount Carmel East, 6001 E. Broad St. in Columbus, there have been 179 patients who tested positive for the flu thus far this month, while there were 149 in December.
In December 2018, there were 21 people who tested positive for the flu at Mount Carmel St. Ann's and 36 at Mount Carmel East.
For the period of Jan. 1 to 19, 2019, there were 33 people who tested positive for the flu at Mount Carmel St. Ann's and 34 at Mount Carmel East.
Greg Viebranz, the Westerville City School District's executive director of communication and technology, said the district hasn't seen anything unusual in terms of the flu, with typically two or three absences per school building.
"We'd like to think this is attributable to the flu clinics we sponsor in the fall," he said.
The district partnered with Health Heroes Inc. to offer flu vaccination clinics that were voluntary in November for any student enrolled in the district. The clinics provide a preservative-free, recommended flu-vaccine injection.
The district piloted the flu-immunization program for the state of Ohio in 2014, according to Viebranz.
Similar to the Westerville City School District, the city of Westerville hasn't experienced high absenteeism with employees, said Christa Dickey, the city's community-affairs director.
Melanie Amato, Ohio Department of Health press secretary, said there were 806 hospitalizations Dec. 29, 2019, through Jan. 4, bringing Ohio up to 1,806 hospitalizations thus far this flu season.
"Last year at this time, we only had 893, but it was a very late flu season last year," she said.
The ODH monitors circulating flu viruses and other related data sources and provides weekly summaries of influenza activity from October through May at odh.ohio.gov.
Amato said every Friday morning, new figures for flu hospitalizations, including a breakdown by county, are posted on the website.
She said the department tracks only pediatric flu-related deaths, those age 18 and younger, of which there has been one death this season involving a 16-year-old girl in Cuyahoga County.
Amato said flu shots are available through local health-care providers, drug stores and local health departments.
"There is no shortage of vaccine," she said. "Flu season lasts till around May so it is not too late to get your flu shot still."
Amato said ways of preventing spread of the flu include washing hands frequently or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer; covering coughs and sneezes with tissues or coughing or sneezing into elbows; avoiding touching of the eyes, nose and mouth; and staying home when sick.