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Northeast Ohio doctors concerned about rising flu cases as CDC reports decade-high number of deaths

The CDC has classified Ohio as a 'purple zone,' which means there is a very high transmission rate of the flu.


As RSV cases decline, hospitals across Northeast Ohio and the nation are seeing influenza cases drastically rise. 

New data from the CDC shows that nationwide flu hospitalizations have hit a decade high. 

"As much as we've been focusing on COVID, COVID, COVID for the last three years, we have to remember and remind ourselves how bad influenza is," said Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children's. 

According to data from the Ohio Department of Health, the five-year average for flu hospitalizations is barely above zero, compared to the roughly 400 cases so far this year. 

"We wonder whether this is because of the gap years that we had because of COVID, we didn't see any flu, we didn't see a lot of viruses and now they're coming back and our immune systems are not as primed as they normally would be," Esper said. 

In fact, just last week Cleveland Clinic saw flu admissions go up 56%. 

Esper said it's important for those at a higher risk to be cautious. 

"If you're older than 65, younger than five, if you've got heart problems, lung problems or immune problems you really, really need to get vaccinated. And if anyone like that is in your family, you need to get vaccinated because you protect them," Esper said. 

Since flu season began on Oct. 1, the CDC estimates there have been 4,500 flu deaths so far this year, compared to the 5,000 total all of last flu season. 

Dr. Amy Edwards, pediatric infectious disease specialist for University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital said the lack of peak pandemic precautions is partially to blame. 

"Masking and social distancing are effective against COVID to a certain extent, but they're extremely effective against influenza because people with influenza are not as contagious as people with COVID," Edwards said. 

She said kids are spreading the flu fast as daycares and schools relax their restrictions. 

"The lack of masking and the easement of restrictions around kids being in congregated settings is what's driving higher flu numbers, so it's not surprising at all what we're seeing," Edwards said. 

Doctors say the best advice they can give is to get your flu shot as soon as you can. They said it takes about two weeks for full protection to kick in. 

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