Michigan Flu Activity Now At Widespread Levels: Nearly All Confirmed Flu Cases Match Strains Found in Vaccine

Contact: T.J. Bucholz (517) 241-2112
Agency: Community Health

February 11, 2005

State officials reported today that Michigan’s flu season may be nearing its peak, confirming that flu activity has reached widespread levels.

“All of our reports from physicians and hospitals across the state suggest that Michigan’s flu season may indeed be peaking,” said Dr. Dean Sienko, acting state Chief Medical Executive. “Increases are occurring in virtually all sectors of our surveillance system. We continue to encourage citizens to get a vaccination, especially those in high or routine priority groups.”

So far, the MDCH Bureau of Laboratories has confirmed influenza in 123 Michigan residents. Of these influenza cases confirmed in Lansing, 94 of them were type A – 93 of these are of the Fujian flu strain, which is covered in the vaccine. One confirmed type A case has not been subtyped by the laboratory. The remaining 29 cases have been confirmed as Influenza type B.

"We ask that our patients in high-risk groups who have not yet had a flu shot – or family or caregivers of these patients – to call their county health department and get one," said John M. MacKeigan, M.D., President of the Michigan State Medical Society. "Prevention is so important including frequent hand washing, eating and sleeping well and avoiding those who already might be sick."

Sienko said the influenza vaccine available this season should provide good protection against nearly all of these viruses. Widespread is the highest level of flu activity as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Sienko said that 5.4 percent of all visits to influenza sentinel physicians around the state are for influenza-like illness – more than double the national baseline of 2.5 percent, and more than double the activity levels Michigan experienced last week.

Regionally, influenza-like illness visits in southwestern Michigan (7.6 percent), central Michigan (6.5 percent), southeast Michigan (4.1 percent), and northern Michigan (3.2 percent), also increased dramatically. Michigan emergency rooms are also seeing increases in visits for influenza-like illness, and cases in school settings and nursing homes also are on the rise.

Each year, as many as 40,000 people, especially the elderly, in the United States die from complications of influenza. However, for the vast majority of people, influenza is unpleasant, but not serious or life threatening. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year. Certain people are at increased risk for serious complications from the flu. This group includes people age 65 years and older and people of any age with chronic medical conditions. Pregnant women and children between 6 months and 23 months of age also are at increased risk from flu complications.

Symptoms of flu include fever (usually high - 100 degrees F or more), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches. Illness usually lasts for 2 to 7 days, but complete recovery may take longer. Symptoms of the stomach and intestines, like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, are rare in adults, but are sometimes seen in children. Some people call diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting that lasts for a day or two 'stomach flu', but that illness is very different from true influenza.

The best way to avoid getting influenza is being vaccinated against the disease, but there are other ways citizens can help prevent influenza and other illnesses, including:

· Avoid close contact – Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

· Stay home when you are sick – If possible, stay home from work, school, and delay errands. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.

· Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

· Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

· Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

If you catch influenza, get plenty of rest, drink a lot of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco. Also, you can take medications to relieve the symptoms of flu (but never give aspirin to ill children or teenagers without first speaking to your doctor.) If, however, your flu symptoms are unusually severe (for example, if you are having trouble breathing), you should contact your health-care provider right away.

Four antiviral drugs (amantadine, rimantadine, zanamavir and oseltamivir) can be used to treat influenza. All of them must be prescribed by a doctor. Antiviral treatment lasts for five days and must be started within the first two days of illness. These drugs cannot cure influenza immediately, but they can help you get better a day or two quicker. These are the only drugs that are effective against influenza. Antibiotics do not work against influenza.

For more information on influenza, access www.michigan.gov/mdch.