RICHLAND COUNTY — According to data compiled by Richland Public Health, flu season has arrived in Richland County.
“We have started to see positive test results and hospitalizations due to influenza in the past three weeks,” said Emily Leedy, epidemiologist at Richland Public Health. Numbers from December showed nine flu-related hospitalizations locally. There have been 13 more flu-related hospitalizations in area hospitals in just the first two weeks of January.
Influenza is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death (there has been one child death from influenza in Ohio this year). Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get the flu every year. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to help protect against flu.
The most common strain of influenza this year has been type B but most of the hospitalizations have been from type A. While the symptoms of influenza B mirrors those of A, the main difference between the two strains is who it can affect. Strains of influenza B are exclusively contracted by humans, while A can be carried (and spread) by animals. However, both strains are transmitted mainly by respiratory droplets from coughing and contact with an infected person.
Flu shots protect against both strains of influenza, and despite rumors to the contrary, the current flu vaccine does include immunity against both strains. Therefore, it’s not too late to get your yearly flu vaccine to possibly avoid getting sick. And, even if you do catch the flu later, your symptoms may be milder and not last as long.
“We still have a good supply of flu vaccine at our Public Health Clinic, including the high dose for seniors (age 65 and older),” Amy Schmidt, Director of Nursing at Richland Public Health, said. Walk-ins are welcome but to shorten wait times you can also schedule a flu shot at a time convenient for you by calling 419-774-4700.
Everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.
People at high risk of serious flu complications include (1) young children, (2) pregnant women, (3) people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and (4) people 65 years and older.
Vaccination also is important for health care workers, and other people who live with or care for high risk people to keep from spreading the flu to them. Those who live with or care for infants should also be vaccinated.
Is It a cold or the flu? The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more widespread and intense. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. Flu can have very serious associated complications.
The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (tiredness). Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.
Does cold weather make you sick? This question has probably been asked since the first time the flu made someone sick. After all, cold and flu season occurs when the weather is cold, so there must be a connection, right? Not exactly. No matter how many times your mother and grandmother told you not to go out in the cold because you would catch a cold or the flu, it just doesn’t work that way.
What really makes you sick? The truth is the flu and the common cold are caused by viruses. There are over 200 viruses that cause the symptoms that we refer to as the common cold. Rhinoviruses cause a majority of colds, but they can be caused by coronaviruses, enteroviruses, and others as well. Because there are so many viruses that cause these symptoms, there may never be a cure for the common cold. The flu, on the other hand, is caused by the influenza virus.
Why do we get sick when it’s cold outside? People get sick more often in the winter because they are exposed to each other more than in the summer. When it is cold outside, people tend to stay inside and are more likely to spread germs to one another. Also, because school is in session, kids are around each other all day and are not afraid to share their germs. With so many people in such close contact, the likelihood of passing germs is much higher when it is cold outside than when it is warm and people are outdoors.
There is also evidence now that viruses spread more easily through the dry air. When it is cold outside, the air is drier both outdoors and inside (where people have their heaters on), which may make it easier for germs to pass from one person to another. But it is not the cold weather that causes the cold; it just might make it easier to spread the virus.
What’s the best protection from cold and flu? The most important thing to remember during cold and flu season is to protect yourself against these germs when you are around other people. Try to avoid touching your face as much as possible, since that is how most respiratory germs enter your body. Viruses are passed by contact between people, so remember these simple tips for staying healthy and keeping others healthy: Wash your hands frequently; Cover your coughs (cough into your sleeve if a tissue isn’t available); Stay home if you are sick; Get your flu shot.
Washing your hands should involve these five steps:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.