JEFFERSON — The spread of influenza across Ohio has hit Ashtabula County hard, officials said.
Urgent care clinics, doctor’s offices and emergency rooms have been bombarded with people with flu-like symptoms and two people have been hospitalized at Ashtabula County Medical Center, said Christine Kettunen, nursing director for the county’s Health Department.
“We’re seeing flu activity — fever, sore throat, watery eyes, muscle aches,” she said. “We know it’s out there.”
Flu season is typically January through March, but this year the virus got a head start, she said.
“The good news is it’s not too late to get a flu shot,” Kettunen said. “It takes about 10 days for the antibodies to build up, but it’s not too late. Getting a flu shot can prevent coming down with the flu.”
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the weekend ending Nov. 23, Ohio was in the “local activity” category for confirmed flu cases. Five weeks later, in the last week of December, nearly the entire country had been swept into the “widespread” category by the CDC.
On New Year’s Eve, Ohio had its first flu-related death of the season, a 16-year-old girl from Cuyahoga County.
Ashtabula County Medical Center Express Care sites have seen “significant increases in patients throughout the past few weeks, with a good majority being for flu-like symptoms,” said Tina Stasiewski, vice president, business development at ACMC. “Currently, we’re seeing Influenza B.”
In the last 60 days, ACMC has had almost 40 patients test positive for influenza — 24 of those since Jan. 1. Of those patients, 30 percent suffered from Influenza A, and 70 percent with Influenza B, according to John Broom, ACMC public relations coordinator.
Ashtabula Family Physician, Farah S. Iftikhar, at Prospect Urgent Care, said she’s also seeing many patients with Influenza B.
“Symptoms are fever, chills, cough and fatigue,” she said.
Complications from the virus can lead to ear infections, pneumonia, muscle inflammation, sinus infections or worsening of chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart failure.
Bonnie Smith, of Jefferson, started feeling sick last Thursday, so she stopped at an Express Care.
“There were at least 20 people ahead of me; it was packed,” she said.
People at greater risk for these complications include adults over the age of 50; pregnant women; children younger than age 5; anyone with certain chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or asthma; and people living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities.
The flu virus spreads when someone touches a surface contaminated by the flu virus. It can then transfer into the body when they touch the mucus membranes of their eyes, mouth or nose.
Flu symptoms usually run their course in 10 days, but feelings of lethargy or congestion can last weeks, according to the CDC.
People can slow the spread of the disease with a few common-sense hygiene precautions: wash hands; cover coughs; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth and stay home when ill, according to the ODH.