Michigan’s flu surge is early and may already be outpacing pre-COVID seasons

Michigan is seeing an above-average increase in flu hospitalizations despite lagging national data indicating the state was in the bottom five states last week.

During the second week of December, Corewell Health East identified 760 flu patients, up from 344 cases in the last week of November. During that time, the census of hospitalized flu patients jumped from 43 patients to 79, according to Dr. Matthew Sims, the hospital’s director of infectious diseases.

This week’s flu case count within the Southeast Michigan Health System is more than nine times higher than the same week in 2019, and astronomically higher than the three total cases that had been identified at this time in 2018.

“There are always variations from year to year, but this is extreme variation,” Sims said.

Dr. Paul Entler, vice president of Sparrow Health System in Lansing, noted a similar drastic increase. What worries him most is the number of flu-related hospitalizations. Sparrow had 38 hospitalized flu patients as of Friday, December 16, compared to one last year.

“Where other states have already been overwhelmed by the flu, we’re starting to see those same trends here in Michigan,” Entler said. “Normally January, February is when we see a lot of peaks, but yours is a steep ascent; much, much steeper than if we were to graph previous years, even before the pandemic.”

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Common symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue.

Flu season in the US can vary, but it usually begins to pick up in October, with cases peaking between December and February, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. overall health varies from year to year.

This year’s flu season has accelerated earlier than usual, with much of the country reporting “high” or “very high” rates of flu-like illness. According to the latest CDC data, published on Friday, December 16, only five states had moderate or lower rates. They include Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, and New Hampshire.

But that data may be lagging behind the current reality in Michigan, health systems have indicated. Michigan does not report statewide flu case data as it does for COVID-19, making it difficult to assess the current increase beyond hospitalization data.

A week ago, Michigan had 2.8% of its outpatient visits to health systems identified with influenza-like illness. That rate was up from 2.4% the previous week, but still below the national average (7.2%).

Additionally, wastewater surveillance systems that track the virus in Ann Arbor, Jackson and Warren have identified increases in influenza in recent weeks, which could be a sign of things to come.

Among Corewell East’s 760 flu patients last week, 681 were seen in the emergency room. There were 362 adult and about 398 pediatric patients. At the same time, the system had 177 RSV cases, up from 357 two weeks earlier, and 430 COVID-19 cases, the same as at the end of November.

One of the biggest concerns for healthcare providers is the possibility of joint surges this winter, resulting in an overwhelmed system. So far, COVID-19 has been stable and RSV seems to be slowing down, but it’s early in the season.

“We have talked about it in previous years, and fortunately it has not come up in previous years, about this triple-demic. So flu, RSV and COVID all at the same time,” Sims said. “This year, we are having it.”

Influenza activity during the 2020-21 season was the lowest since current reporting began in 1997. About 0.15% of the nearly 1.5 million specimens sent to clinical laboratories for influenza testing tested positive, which was a substantial reduction compared to almost 17% the previous year.

Last flu season was also among the mildest in recent memory. Health officials attribute the back-to-back off-seasons to the rise in non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as mask-wearing, social distancing and isolating when sick, introduced to slow the spread of the coronavirus during the pandemic.

they were waiting the recent return of influenza after the southern hemisphere reported its worst season in at least five years. To make matters worse, the spike follows a recent increase in RSVwhich emphasized children’s hospitals, and along with the continuing COVID-19 infections.

Hospitals have begun reporting shortages of antibiotics like Tamiflu, which is often used to reduce the strength and longevity of the flu. Dr. Entler said there are other drug options, but those could also be reduced due to domestic demand and existing supply chain issues.

As hospitals and their staff prepare for another potentially challenging winter, health officials like Sims and Entler are again asking residents to protect themselves by washing their hands, isolating when they’re not feeling well, and getting vaccinated to reduce the likelihood of serious illness. .

The annual flu vaccine is recommended for anyone over the age of 6 months, and especially for adults over the age of 65 and people with certain chronic medical conditions.

Influenza deaths in adults do not have to be reported to the CDC, so federal health officials cannot say what percentage of deaths are among those who were not vaccinated. However, reporting is required for children. Between 2010 and 2020, approximately 80% of influenza-related deaths in children occurred in cases where children were not vaccinated.

To find a vaccine near you, visit vaccines.gov or call the COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136 (press 1) between 8 am and 5 pm Monday through Friday, or between 10 am and 2 pm on weekends.

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