by Mike Lesko I Reporter
The Portage County Health Department will offer more chances for residents to get a flu shot, in response to the outbreak that is hitting all of Ohio, including Aurora and Streetsboro.
"We are seeing an increase in flu cases right now," said Rosemary Ferraro, nursing director for the Portage County Health Department.
The Ohio Department of Health reported Jan. 11 that one Ohio child died from "flu-related illness," and a handful of adult deaths have been linked to the flu, the Associated Press reported. The Ohio Department of Health did not say where the child was from.
The department is not calling the flu outbreak "an epidemic," according to Tessie Pollock, a department spokesperson. "It's an early start to the flu season."
The county Health Department will have additional flu shot clinics at both Portage County Health Department and Kent City Health Department.
"With the closing of Ravenna City Health Department's immunization clinic, we felt it necessary to offer city residents, as well as county residents another opportunity for getting their flu shot," Portage County Health Commissioner DuWayne Porter said.
"It's not too late to get your flu shot," Ferraro said. "It's important to remember that flu season can last as late as May."
Everyone is at risk for getting the seasonal flu, Ferraro said.
Health officials recommended that all people age 6 months and older should receive a flu shot, especially pregnant women, children 5 years of age and younger, adults 50 years of age and older, people with chronic health conditions, healthcare workers, and people who live and/or care for people who are at high risk for complications from the flu.
Flu viruses are "so unpredictable, you do not know what is going to happen," according to Pollock. "We may have reached our peak. Maybe next week we'll reach our peak or maybe we'll continue to climb."
The Ohio Department of Health usually does not see the flu season "peak" until February, Pollock said.
During last year's flu season, there were no reported deaths among children, Pollock said. The year before there was one.
Ohio is among 47 states with widespread flu outbreaks, and health officials blame the flu for at least 20 child deaths nationally, the AP reported.
Flu-associated hospitalizations are running at much higher rates than the last two seasons. The state reports there have been 1,922 since October in Ohio, compared with 86 a year ago and 175 the previous season.
Some hospitals have begun limiting visitors and handing out surgical masks to try to slow the spread, and health officials are urging people to stay home if they are sick and to keep ill children out of day cares and schools.
Pollock noted that the state is coming off an unusually mild season a year ago, and two relatively light seasons after the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.
"YOU CAN'T make a statement about the severity of a flu season until it's over," she said.
The health department advises people to get flu shots if they haven't already and says there are sufficient supplies of the vaccine available around the state. While flu shots aren't a guarantee against catching the flu, Pollock said the vaccine seems to be a good match for current strains.
"Building health habits into your routine will also go a long way in preventing the flu," Pollock said.
Pollock suggests regular hand washing with either soap and water, or using hand sanitizers.
"And stay home if you are sick," Pollock added. "It's something that's more easily said than done, but it really does help curb the spread of illness."
Editor's Note: The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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