Flu cases are spiking throughout the region, bringing fevers, chills, coughs, aches and overall misery to many area residents.
Summa Health System is admitting an average of one or two patients daily to Akron City Hospital with serious complications from influenza, said Dr. Thomas File, chair of the health system’s infectious disease division.
About 90 percent or more of the influenza cases are being caused by the H1N1 virus, which was responsible for the swine flu pandemic in 2009.
This season’s flu vaccine includes protection against the H1N1 virus.
Just as during the pandemic, young adults appear to be more vulnerable to serious problems from influenza this season, File said. A 17-year-old who contracted the flu is in the hospital on a ventilator.
“The majority of the patients who are requiring hospitalizations are under the age of 65,” he said. “We usually think of seasonal influenza causing the great burden on the oldest population, particularly those who have underlying conditions.”
Summit County hospitals reported 85 influenza-related hospital admissions through the second week of January, according to data released on Friday by the Ohio Department of Health.
Statewide, 1,233 people were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms so far this season, including about 400 during the second week of January.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity typically peaks nationwide in January or February.
The agency is reporting a high level of influenza nationwide.
Hospitals throughout Summit, Stark, Portage and Medina counties enacted visitation restrictions last week to protect patients during the flu season.
Akron Children’s Hospital is seeing an increase in influenza at the same time that cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are rising, said Dr. Blaise Congeni, head of the hospital’s infectious disease department.
“We have a bit of a double whammy,” Congeni said. “Usually RSV comes early and flu comes after RSV. They don’t like to share the stage.”
Typical flu symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
So far, anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu continue to be effective, if given early enough, according to infectious disease experts.
Influenza is caused by a virus, meaning antibiotics won’t help, said Dr. Carol Cunningham, an Akron General emergency medicine physician who serves as state medical director for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, Division of EMS. However, patients can develop secondary bacterial infections, particularly pneumonia, that require antibiotics.
Patients with flu-like symptoms who are short of breath or experiencing other severe respiratory problems should seek medical help, she said.
“When you have influenza, your lungs are inflamed so you’re more likely to get a secondary bacterial infection, like a pneumonia,” Cunningham said. “The respiratory symptoms are the things we’re most concerned about, with people having low oxygen saturations. Those people need to be admitted.”
Other complications of flu can include ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration or worsening of chronic illnesses, such as congestive heart failure, asthma and diabetes.
It’s not too late to get vaccinated, though full immunity takes about two weeks, health experts said. Flu season technically continues in the region through April.
“Young, healthy people may think they’re not at risk, but they potentially are,” File said.
Infectious disease experts also are urging people with flu-like symptoms to stay home to avoid spreading the virus.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or email@example.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.