While the state has seen more than 960 cases of influenza, Athens County has only seen one hospitalization.
There has been one hospitalization in Athens County as of Thursday despite an increase of hospitalizations statewide, James Gaskell, the Athens health commissioner, said. In the first week of January, 654 people were hospitalized in Ohio, with the total number up to 967 as of last week.
In Athens County, however, there has not been an increase in hospitalizations. More people are coming in for flu-like symptoms and are testing positive than before, Gaskell said.
“The national baseline average is about 2.2 percent of doctor visits with influenza-like symptoms,” he said. “We’re up to, in the past week, 3.2 percent (of patients) visiting doctors have influenza-like illness.”
Last year at this time, flu rates in Athens were down. One percent of flu tests came back positive. Flu season can begin as early as October and can continue until as late as May, but peaks between December and March, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
This year’s vaccine matches up “very nicely” with the viruses that have been widespread this season, Gaskell said. He recommends getting the vaccine to prevent infection.
“The message should be: Get the vaccine,” he said. “It matches with the virus circulating right now. We have plenty of vaccines left at the health department.”
There are a variety of options when it comes to getting the flu shot in Athens. Students and community members can go to the Athens City-County Health Department, CVS Pharmacy, The Drugstore at OU or Hudson Health Center.
Most insurance companies will cover the cost of a flu shot, but if citizens want to pay with cash, a flu shot at CVS will cost about $29 or $19 at The Drugstore at OU. Students can also get a flu shot at Hudson Health Center and have the cost charged to their student account.
“We still provide the flu vaccine until April,” Jenny Keller, a pharmacist at The Drugstore at OU, said. “It costs $19 to get it here. … Most insurances pay for it.”
It’s not too late to get the vaccine: there have been an “upsurge” of people getting vaccines, Gaskell said. Studies show that the vaccine reduces the chances of flu-illness by 50 to 60 percent during seasons where the flu virus circulating matches the vaccine.
“The vaccine is important,” Keller said. “It certainly prevents the diseases.”
“I don’t get flu shots,” Olivia Bell, a sophomore studying pre-medicine and nutrition, said. “The last time I did get a flu shot, I got sick from it.”
Bell’s experience is a common misconception. Flu vaccines are made from an inactivated virus and take about one or two weeks for someone to be protected from the virus. People who contract the flu would’ve gotten sick anyway, but they assume it is because of the shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
If infected, Gaskell said patients must stay home and rest until they are well, which will take approximately 5-7 days.
“(I recommend) frequent hand-washing,” he said. “People who are coughing and sneezing need to cover with sleeves. Avoid crowds because that’s where they’re most likely to get infected.”
Originally published for The Post on Jan. 31, 2017.