By MARK TODD - firstname.lastname@example.org
JEFFERSON — Local health experts are worried fewer Ashtabula County residents are protected from the flu, just as the illness’ season appears to be off to an earlier-than-usual start.
During the entire 2011-2012 season, the county’s health department saw six people hospitalized with flu-related ailments, said Rebecca Robinson, health educator for the county department. Already this season five people have been admitted to hospitals, she said.
The Centers for Disease Control, on its website, is reporting influenza levels are increasing across the country, an alarming trend since the illness doesn’t usually peak until February.
At the same time, the numbers of people seeking vaccine from local health departments have dropped, officials say. All three health departments in the county are reporting decreased participation.
The city of Ashtabula’s health department has administered around 1,000 doses of vaccine, a number significantly smaller than last season, said Ginny Ewing, director of nursing. The county department has provided 1,550 doses so far this season, compared to 2,500 in 2011, Robinson said.
Decreases have also been reported at the Conneaut Health Department.
The numbers don’t necessarily mean fewer people are seeking treatment. Some may have received vaccine at the many stores and pharmacies in the area that offer flu vaccine, experts say.
Others, however, may have been lulled into a false sense of security by last year’s balmy winter, Robinson said. “We had such a mild winter,” she said.
There is also concern in the health community that children aren’t getting the vaccine, since some businesses don’t deal with kids.
Luckily, flu vaccine is still readily available at all three health departments. Here’s a clinic schedule: Ashtabula County Health Department, 12 W. Jefferson St., Jefferson, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays and Fridays through Dec. 28; City of Ashtabula Health Department, 4717 Main Ave., Ashtabula, 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays;
Conneaut Health Department, Conneaut Human Resources Center, 327 Mill St., call 593-3087 for clinic dates and times.
The CDC recommends flu vaccine for everyone six months and older, especially the following groups:
• Pregnant women
• Children younger than five years
• People 65 years and older
• People with chronic medical conditions
• Nursing home residents
• Care-givers for people in the above categories