The long arm of influenza is making its seasonal reach across Fulton County but this year it’s a bit stronger.
A reported 27 local hospitalizations are flu-related as of Jan. 19, the majority Influenza A cases, according to the Fulton County Health Department. That’s above normal, and likely because the more vigorous H3N2 strain is making the rounds.
“It’s what we expect to see in a year when H3N2 is more prevalent. It does seem more severe,” said Cindy Rose, FCHD director of nursing. “When we see that prevalence increase, we have a lot more disease, a lot more hospitalization.”
At present, 135 positive Influenza A tests, which include the H3N2 virus, are being recorded in the county. There were 87 cases of influenza and influenza-like illness in December. No flu-related deaths have been reported in the county.
The H3N2 strain also made local appearances during the 2012-13 and 2014-15 flu seasons.
The Ohio Department of Health has reported 3,857 people across the state being hospitalized with influenza as of Jan. 6, a sharp increase from 654 hospitalizations reported during the same time last year.
Rose said because the H3N2 appears more virulent it can have a more profound effect on children and people over 65 years old. She said that’s especially true if an individual has an underlying condition such as lung disease, cardiovascular issues or diabetes.
The circulating strain proved strong enough to cause cancellation of Monday’s girls basketball game between the Fayette and Liberty Center teams. Fayette schools Superintendent Erik Belcher said too many players were ill with the flu.
About 50 Fayette students have been down with the illness, he said. At an annual Senior Center dinner hosted recently by the National Honor Society and FFA members attendance was noticeably down. Belcher, who was socked with the flu over Christmas break, attributes the low turnout to fear of the virus.
He said the school district goes through spurts of illness “but this year we seem to notice more. The last few weeks, it’s been pretty heavy.” He said the school district is attempting to be proactive, disinfecting and deep-cleaning classrooms after use.
“We are keeping things clean and sanitary, but at the end of the day, when you put 450 kids in a building, there are coughs. Things spread,” Belcher said.
Archbold and Pettisville schools have fared better. Archbold Superintendent Aaron Rex said absenteeism among students hasn’t been much different than during past flu seasons, with five elementary school students and two high school students reported ill. Pettisville Superintendent Steve Switzer said the number of ill students is up but not drastically.
The Wauseon school district also isn’t seeing a dramatic rise in flu cases. Superintendent Larry Brown said standard preventative steps are being taken.
“We care about our students and staff. Therefore, we reinforce repeated hand washing and other ways to limit transmission of the flu virus,” he said.
Swanton Local Schools Superintendent Chris Lake said only a couple of flu cases have been reported. He said teachers routinely wipe down desks and have preached hand washing to students. Lake said the district held flu shot clinics for all staff members in September and October.
“So far, we’ve been lucky,” he said. “We’re just trying to be as preventative as we can.”
The middle school has been hit hardest in the Evergreen district, with about 15 percent of students suffering from influenza. The elementary school has seen about 30 cases, and the high school has reported a few more cases than usual.
“It’s not widespread at this point. We’re concerned it could be spreading but we’re doing the best we can,” Superintendent Jim Wyse said.
He said the schools have initiated extra cleaning and staff members are educating the students on ways to contain the outbreak.
Rose said people with signs of influenza, which typically lasts from five to seven days, should see their doctor, who should consider placing them on anti-viral medication. She said the H3N2 strain is more difficult to contain, which should serve as an incentive to get a flu shot.
To prevent illness, individuals should wash their hands frequently and carefully with soap and water. It they become ill, they should rest, drink lots of fluids, cover their coughs, and remain home until well.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-330-2010.