Ohio seeing higher number of flu cases early in season

CLEVELAND-- The snowy, cold weather is helping usher in the flu season, which doctors say is getting an early start.

This year, hospitals across Ohio are admitting more patients than this time a year ago.

"It's starting to ramp up. We're starting to see more and more people as the weather's changing," said Dr. Robert Hughes, an emergency medicine physician at University Hospitals in Cleveland.

He said as the temperatures fall across Northeast Ohio, the number of patients coming in with the flu is going up. Ohio has not even hit the peak of flu season, which generally runs from October through late March.

"We haven't even really hit it, we're pretty early. We're just starting to see cases a little bit sooner than we have in the past and this is probably gonna ramp up over the next couple of months," Hughes said.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, 257 people across the state have been admitted to the hospital for flu-related illnesses. This time last year, the number was 83.

Looking at a few of the most affected counties in Northeast Ohio: 28 of those patients were in Cuyahoga County, 25 in Stark and 17 in Summit County.

"The flu vaccine, while very effective and everybody should go out and get it, this year may not be as effective as we had hoped in the past. And so we are expecting to see a little higher uptick in people with the flu," Dr. Hughes said.

He said hospitals may also have a lower supply of some medicine.

“Because of the hurricane in Puerto Rico, they manufacture a lot of our resuscitative fluids, so normal saline, lactated ringer. So these are fluids we give people through an IV when they're particularly sick. So we're going to potentially have an influx of sick patients with a smaller supply of medication to give," Hughes said.

Doctors say good hygiene, including hand washing, is key to keeping those coughs, sneezes and fevers, away.

"The key to the flu is treating with plenty of fluids at home... If you can't eat, that's OK. You just have to keep hydrated," said the doctor.