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Flu now widespread in Ohio

Officials at the Ironton and Lawrence County health departments are still encouraging residents to stop in for a flu shot.

This comes after an announcement from the Ohio Department of Health that the virus is now considered widespread throughout Ohio, with more than 800 influenza-associated hospitalizations reported since October.

Laura Brown, Ironton’s health commissioner, said there have been a few cases of people being hospitalized because of the virus in Lawrence County since the flu season began, but said the virus hasn’t yet hit southern Ohio hard yet.

“The height will be the first of February,” Brown said. “I think we will really see our numbers go up.”

Right now, the highest number of hospitalizations has been reported in northeast and east central Ohio, according to the ODH.

Brown said the city health department has administered a little more than 500 flu vaccines this season, unlike past years when people flocked to get the shot.

“It used to be long lines down the block,” Brown recalled. “We could give 300 in one day.”

The county health department has seen just fewer than 1,200 patients receive flu shots, Mary Jon Holtzapfel, immunization coordinator, said.

“Providers are all saying they are seeing many more cases,” Holtzapfel said. “School nurses are starting to see cases.”

Both health departments still have vaccines available. The cost is $15 for adults and $5 for children. Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance cover that cost.

According to the ODH, most of the flu circulating in Ohio is the H1N1 strain from the 2009 influenza season, which is now considered a commonly circulating seasonal influenza strain. This strain disproportionately affects young and middle-aged adults. H1N1 is one of the flu strains included in this year’s vaccine.

Brown and Holtzapfel both stressed that the vaccine is not fully effective until after 10 to 14 days from the injection. Until then, people are urged to wash their hands frequently, use hand sanitizer and stay away from people who appear ill.

Other precautions to follow are covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, or coughing or sneezing into elbows; avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth; and staying home when sick and until fever-free for 24 hours without using fever-reducing medication.

The Ironton and Lawrence County health departments are located at 2120 and 2122 S. Eighth St., Ironton.

The city health department can be reached at 532-2172 and the county agency at 532-3962.