The country is in the thick of the flu season and Madison County has not escaped its feverish grip.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, the season can begin as early as October and run as late as March, with intermittent cases through the duration of the year. It typically peaks from November through February.
There have been 39 reported cases of influenza so far in the 2017-2018 season — with 36 of these occurring in January, according to Madison County Health Commissioner Chris Cook.
This is up from a mere three cases — an increase of 1,200 percent — reported during the corresponding period in 2016-2017.
Cook maintains that these numbers don’t represent the entirety of cases of influenza that have been contracted in the county, just those that have been reported.
Only three kinds of influenza related cases are required to be reported: those requiring hospitalization of the patient (the main type of case encountered), cases resulting in pediatric death, and “novel” cases, or those involving a strain that wasn’t expected in the current season.
“Many people stay home and recover without coming to the hospital and therefor do not get reported,” Cook said.
Such an increase in reported cases may at first be alarming, but are not terribly unusual, according to Cook. “We are not in territory we haven’t seen before,” he said. “We are right in line with numbers from the 2013-2014 season.”
Cook attributes the alarm sounded by the national news to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine that stated this season’s vaccine may be only 10 percent effective, a statement borne out by the sharp rise in influenza cases reported in Australia — a country which happens to use the same type of vaccine as the U.S.
And even if this season’s vaccine is not a perfect match to prevailing strains, Madison Public Health highly recommends that all people over the age of six months still get the vaccine.
“The flu shot is never 100 percent effective, but even if it is not the best match, it can lessen the severity and duration of symptoms,” Cook said.
The current strains are showing little resistance to anti-virals being prescribed by physicians, according to Cook.
Beyond getting the shot, the best way to prevent the spread of the influenza virus is through good hygiene — and staying home whenever possible.
“Influenza is spread by droplets — it is airborne — which means you should cover your mouth when you cough (preferably with something other than a bare hand) and wash immediately after doing so,” Cook said. “Keep in mind that the virus can be spread a full day before any symptoms come on, so covering the mouth should always happen.”
Cook also recommends that those suffering from the flu quarantine themselves to their full five days after recovering from symptoms, as they are still contagious.
Madison Public Health provides the flu shot on a walk-in basis Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Reach Andrew Garrett at 740-852-1616, ext. 1616.