The flu season has officially arrived in Ohio and Michigan.
The number of people seeking treatment at local hospitals has spiked in the last two weeks, and health officials are particularly concerned that the H1N1 strain of the virus has led to some severe complications in young, healthy people.
There has been one influenza-associated child death and six adult deaths this season from the flu-virus in Michigan, said Angela Minicuci, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health.
The Ohio Department of Health, which does not track adult flu-related deaths, reports no children have died this season but some 533 people have been hospitalized across the state.
The Ann Arbor community, 54 miles north of Toledo, seems to be experiencing one of the most severe outbreaks in the region. More than a dozen patients with flu-related symptoms have been placed in the intensive care department at the University of Michigan hospital, said Ms. Minicuci.
“The number of cases is not unusually high, but we are seeing an increase in terms of the type of people getting sick and being hospitalized. Typically we see the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, or young children with these severe complications, but this year we are seeing a lot of younger people who are otherwise healthy,” she said.
She said the flu can spread quickly and Ann Arbor, with its large population of students, is the type of place that is ripe for contamination. The students and young people in general often do not get the flu vaccine, she said.
Any flu infection carries a risk of serious complications, hospitalization, or death, but the H1N1 strain of the flu virus caused particular concern when it first appeared in 2009. It was considered a pandemic by health officials because of the number of children and young adults who were affected. Since then, H1N1 has been incorporated into the flu vaccine every year. This season’s flu vaccine contains protection against influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus, and one or two influenza B viruses, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
“Like Michigan, H1N1 is the predominant strain here in Ohio, and that’s why it is just as important for young and middle-aged people to become immunized as older people,” said Shannon Libby, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health.
Dr. David Grossman, health commissioner for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, agreed and said there is still plenty of vaccine supply in the area.
Anyone who wants the vaccine should not have any trouble finding it in Ohio or Michigan. In Michigan, the health department has set up a Web site, flushot.healthmap.org, that is searchable by city or ZIP code to help people find a local clinic or doctor’s office to get the vaccine, said Ms. Minicuci.
Locally the shots range in price from about $25 to $32 dollars at pharmacies and doctors’ offices and the cost is covered by many insurance companies. It takes about two weeks after receiving the flu vaccine to be fully protected.
Flu is already circulating nationwide, and Ohio is finally catching up with the rest of the country, said Dr. Grossman. He said the flu season begins near the end of September, and both the East and West Coasts saw much more activity earlier in the season. January and February are typically the peak times in Ohio.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of documented cases,” said Dr. Grossman. He said there have been 30 to 40 positive results for the flu this past week in the Toledo-area, which is a “big jump” from previous weeks. There have been no reported deaths from flu-related symptoms in Lucas County, he said.
In the Wood County Health Department’s district, officials report there have been three flu-related hospitalizations but no reported deaths. “Wood County is beginning to see a slight increase in cases of influenza. Our numbers are very similar in comparison to last year,” said Nikki Brue, epidemiologist for the department that covers Wood, Seneca, and Crawford counties.
Dr. Grossman said he is not sure if the uptick in flu-related cases this week is just the tip of the iceberg. It will become more clear over the next two weeks if this will be a typical flu season in the region or if the area is facing a more severe outbreak, he said.
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.