Flu season mild so far, but expected to get worse

December 14, 2018 GMT

Flu season mild so far, but expected to get worse

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Flu deaths and hospitalizations are low so far this season in Northeast Ohio and across the country, thanks in part to an influenza virus associated with milder flu seasons.

But it could get worse just in time for Christmas.

Flu is a respiratory illness that is easily spread from person to person through sneezing, coughing and contact with hands that touch the eyes, nose and mouth. It can cause mild to severe illness, and thousands die from flu-related illnesses each year.

Symptoms include fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and tiredness.

The influenza A virus H1N1, which is associated with milder flu seasons, has been the dominant virus to date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza A(H3N2) and influenza B viruses also are in circulation.

That’s a change from last year’s flu season, when a particularly virulent influenza virus, combined with a flu vaccine that had reduced effectiveness, resulted in high numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.

More than 80,000 Americans died of the flu during the last influenza season, the highest number in over a decade, according to the CDC.

This year’s flu vaccines have been tweaked to better fight against expected A and B strains of the virus. It’s too early to tell how effective this year’s flu shot will be, said Drew Heffron, clinic supervisor with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.

He expects the flu season to get worse at the end of the month, just in time for holiday gatherings and travel.

In Northeast Ohio, Summit, Lake and Lorain Counties, health departments have seen only a handful of influenza-related hospitalizations. Medina County reports three flu-related deaths, and one hospitalization. There have been 20 hospitalizations and no deaths in Cuyahoga County.

Nationally, flu activity is relatively low, which is in keeping with activity at this time of year in the past, CDC recently reported. Five children have died across the country this flu season, which usually peaks in January or February.

According to the American Lung Association, influenza is not just a bad cold, but a serious and contagious respiratory illness, and can be fatal.

It’s not too late to get a flu vaccine, which is the best way to protect yourself and to reduce the spread of the flu. “That tickle in your throat is a reminder to go get your flu shot,” Heffron said.

“Flu vaccination is essential for not only your health and life, but also for those around you who are more susceptible to the effects of the flu—young children, older adults and those with weakened immune systems,” said Kim Covey, executive director of the American Lung Association in Ohio, in a statement. “The terrible toll of last year’s flu season is a great reminder to get to your local pharmacy, health department or healthcare provider to get the flu shot.”

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an annual influenza vaccination. It’s especially important for pregnant women, people age 50 and older and those with chronic health conditions including asthma and COPD, as they are at a higher risk of developing influenza-related complications.

For the 2018-2019 season, the nasal spray flu vaccine, also called the live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV, is recommended for most adults.

Click here for information about where to get a flu shot in your area.

Oak Street Health offers free flu vaccines for Medicare recipients at these centers in Cleveland:

Glenville: 10553 St Clair Ave.

West Boulevard: 10688 Lorain Ave.

Lee-Harvard: 4071 Lee Rd.

Call Oak Hill at (844) 871-5650 for more information.