The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 12, 2013

Flu outbreak spurs Ashtabula County run on vaccines

Demand increases over the past few days

Star Beacon

— Local interest in flu vaccine has jumped amid reports an outbreak of the disease is sweeping the country, health officials said Friday.

“The phone has rung off the hook the last two days, said Rebecca Robinson, health educator and disease surveillance/epidemiology specialist with the Ashtabula County Health Department.

The boost in interest comes on the heels of a big uptick in flu cases in the U.S. — and Ohio is no exception. The Ohio Department of Health, in a statement released Friday, reported 1,922 influenza-associated hospitalizations reported so far this season. That’s a huge jump compared to the last flu season, which saw 86 hospitalizations across the state, according to the statement.

Ohio has also seen one child death to the flu; none occurred last season, according to the statement.

In Ashtabula County, 31 people have so far been hospitalized with influenza since mid-December, already five times the number recorded during the entire 2011-2012 season, Robinson said. Twenty of those people were admitted at Ashtabula County Medical Center between Dec. 9 and noon Thursday, according to John Broom, public relations coordinator, citing data compiled by Cindy Callahan, ACMC’s Infection Control practitioner.

The number of hospitalizations jumped since Dec. 19, when 12 people had been hospitalized, Robinson said. Many more people have gone to emergency rooms for out-patient treatment of flu symptoms, she said.

The end result of the big flu outbreak is a surge of interest in vaccine, local health experts report.

“People are coming in and getting shots and we’re getting a lot of inquiries,” said Sally Kennedy, Conneaut health commissioner. “We’ve been swamped. It’s wonderful.”

Kennedy said she believes a blend of media attention and illness now occurring within families has spurred demand for vaccine. “They are seeking people with (influenza) and they want to be protected,” she said.

Just last month, the amount of vaccine dispensed at public clinics was lagging. Experts said a combination of a balmy fall, a lack of illness and the prevalence of flu vaccine dispensed at pharmacies and other stores accounted for the low numbers.

The flu season traditionally hits hardest in January and February, but the climbing number of cases indicate a peak is still ahead. Final totals could top the H1N1 virus situation of 2009, Robinson said.

For that reason, vaccine received this month can still prove effective, even with the two-week period usually needed to build up anti-bodies, health officials have said. Vaccine on hand locally is designed to combat the influenza strains now in circulation, said Chris Kettunen, county nursing director. “It’s more than 60 percent effective,” she said Friday.

People can help stem the spread of flu virus by washing their hands regularly, muzzle coughs and sneezes, get plenty of rest, eat properly and stay home when not feeling well, experts agree.

Flu vaccine is still available from the county health department. Below is a list of clinics established by the county health department:

• Jefferson — Health Department office, 12 W. Jefferson St.; first Monday of each month (8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.); other Mondays (8 a.m.-4 p.m.), Fridays (8 a.m.-4 p.m.)

• Geneva — Assumption Church Rectory, 594 West Main, Wednesday (1-3 p.m.)

• Ashtabula Township — Township Hall, routes 20 and 11, Wednesday (11 a.m.-noon)

• Kingsville Township — Presbyterian Church, 3058 W. Main St.; fourth Thursday of each month (10 a.m.-noon); second Friday of each month (10 a.m.-noon)

• Orwell — St. Mary’s Church, Orwell; second and fourth Thursday (1-3 p.m.)

• Andover — Christian Church, Stillman Avenue; third Tuesday of each month (1-3 p.m.)

For vaccine clinic information in Conneaut and Ashtabula, call the municipal health departments at 593-3087 and 992-7122, respectively.