17K hospitalized with flu last year: What you need to know about this season

Flu season is once again approaching and public health officials recommend everyone six months or older get vaccinated to reduce the risk of illness, hospitalization, missed work or school or even death.

Last season there were 17,397 flu-related hospitalizations in Ohio, more than four times the number from 2015 to 2016 when there were 3,691 cases.

“Obviously last season was a very hard hit season for the flu and we want to take that opportunity to remind people that getting vaccinated will help reduce the risk of the season becoming even worse this season,” said Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County.

Jason Briscoe, director of pharmacy operations at Drug Mart, said there are different options for the flu vaccine. There’s a high dose vaccine for people 65 and older and also a vaccine that is not made using eggs and is safe for people with egg allergies, he said.

Flu hospitalizations 
Ohio flu-related hospitalizations were high for the 2017-2018 season. 
SeasonOhio cases
Source: Ohio Department of Health

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The nasal spray option of the flu vaccine is also back after several years of being out of circulation, Briscoe said.

He said the motivation for getting a flu vaccine is not just to protect yourself, but to protect those around you who might be particularly susceptible.

“You are not only protecting yourself but protecting those around you that you might come in contact with, whether that’s a little baby or your grandparents or someone with a compromised immune system,” Briscoe said.

The flu vaccine takes about two weeks before fully effective so its best to get it early, he said. The CDC recommends vaccinations before the end of October.

Last year, the number of flu cases in Ohio started to increase in December and peaked early January. When flu season begins and when it peaks shifts from year to year.

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There were four children in Ohio who died from the flu last season. Adult flu deaths are not tracked.

The CDC has changed its recommendation for people with egg allergies, now saying that even people with severe reactions like hives can now get the vaccine, though should get it in a medical office setting and not at a pharmacy.

If a person does get the flu, the FDA approved this month the first generic version of Tamiflu, making flu treatment cheaper. Like the branded version, the generic is for treating patients within 48 hours of when flu-like symptoms appear, like fevers, chills, coughing, muscle aches, congestion, headaches and fatigue.

Along with getting vaccinated, Suffoletto emphasized the importance of other preventative measures like hand washing and staying home from work or school if sick, so to prevent further spread of the virus.

The flu vaccine is about 40 to 60 percent effective, varying from year to year. Suffoletto said even if a person still gets the flu after being vaccinated, they typically have less severe symptoms than if they had not been vaccinated.

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Pharmacies, urgent care centers, health departments, physician offices, schools and workplaces will have flu vaccines available.

The time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about two days, but can range from about one to four days, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins. The CDC said some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others with flu viruses for an even longer time.

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