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Local health professionals concerned by rising flu cases in Ohio

Flu cases are eight times higher than they were pre-COVID-19 pandemic, and local health professionals are worried it could put a strain on hospital systems.

TOLEDO, Ohio — The flu is on the rise across Ohio, with cases now 8 times higher in the last week of October and the first week of November than they were at the same time pre-COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Lowered immunity from years of lockdowns and masks has caused this spike, Eric Zgodzinski, health commissioner for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, said.

"We don't have an immunity to any type of flu right now that you could say would be helpful," he said.

As of Monday, Lucas County has 14 cases of the flu. But with people preparing to travel and gather together next week for Thanksgiving, Zgodzinski said he expects those numbers to rise.

He recommended residents prepare for this wave of the virus in traditional fashion by washing hands, staying home when feeling sick and getting the flu vaccine.

But this year, there's more to contend with than just the flu. COVID-19 and RSV cases are still in Lucas County as well.

While coronavirus numbers typically float between 29-30 cases a day in Lucas County, RSV continues to be on the rise, affecting children and infants. With no vaccine for RSV yet, Zgodzinski said affected groups should be especially cautious.

But regarding the flu in particular, Zgodzinski said with numbers high already, data from the southern hemisphere provides ideas on how the rest of the season could play out.

"We're getting a lot of our information or forecasting from (the southern hemisphere), and it was a pretty significant year down there, so we can probably think it's going to be significant here as well," Zgodzinski said.

Dr. Sharon Thomas, who specializes in pediatric critical care with ProMedica, said like the flu, cases of RSV were down significantly during the pandemic. But now, with people in close proximity again, those numbers are shooting back up.

While Thomas said precautions like hand washing and the flu vaccine can help keep cases down, if flu and RSV numbers continue their upward trend hospital beds could soon be filled and some sick people could be turned away in the coming months.

"We've been experiencing that in pediatrics over the last month or so with the rise in cases of RSV, so we are concerned that when we have these spikes in illness that that's something that can certainly occur when we're pushed for beds because people are so ill," Thomas said.

Thomas also said ProMedica intends to address incoming flu cases to the best of its ability.

Throughout December, TLCHD is holding free walk-in flu shot clinics at the department at 635 N. Erie St. Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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