CADILLAC — Believe it or not, snow could be falling this weekend.
While that might be a blessing or a curse depending on where you fall in the snow debate, what isn’t up for debate is that the 2019-2020 flu season is here. The timing of flu is unpredictable and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although influenza can be detected year-round, the CDC said seasonal flu activity often begins as early as October and November and can continue to occur as late as May. In a normal year, the CDC said flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February.
Dr. Jennifer Morse is preparing for the upcoming flu season and hoping for the best after the last two years have been above average.
As the medical director for District Health Department No. 10, Mid-Michigan District Health Department and Central Michigan District Health Department, she has a lot on her plate. So far, Morse said flu activity is low but there has been some activity downstate and in particular on the campus of the University of Michigan. She said it is typically early in the season to see small pockets of activity in October but this occurred in September.
“It is hard to say what it means. I don’t feel that the full flu season is kicking in right now,‘ she said. “The flu season is just winding down in other parts of the world. You can see influenza at any time of the year, which is why we advocate flu vaccines all year long. There is always a chance you can get the flu but certain times of the year you are at higher risk.‘
With that in mind, public health officials like Morse and Munson Healthcare Cadillac Hospital Director of Quality, Safety, and Risk Joanna Benchley are stressing the importance of getting a flu shot this fall. They both recommend that everyone get the vaccine sooner rather than later.
Like Morse, Benchley said the hospital hasn’t seen any positive flu cases yet, which is normal for this time of year. The past few years, however, Benchley said the flu season peaked later in the season. With that in mind, she anticipated the hospital will likely start to see positive cases of influenza within the next month.
She said when patients do start coming they typically come through the Emergency Department and are elderly, infants or pregnant women. For those segments of the population, Benchley said it is important they get the flu vaccine as they are at the highest risk.
Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months. Flu can spread rapidly in close family settings, schools, offices and other places where groups of people gather. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness with symptoms that include fever, headache, fatigue, cough, stuffy or a runny nose and muscle aches.
Influenza causes more than 200,000 hospitalizations a year and thousands of deaths.
It’s especially crucial for pregnant women, children and people 65 and older to be vaccinated. Since infants under 6 months can’t receive the vaccine, their protection primarily depends on their mother’s immunity. An infant’s protection also depends on their family members and caregivers getting vaccinated, as well.
“Actually, they are anticipating the flu vaccine is expected to be a good match for the virus they believe will be circulating,‘ Benchley said. “We are hoping for a pretty normal flu season if not better than the past couple of seasons.‘
Flu viruses worldwide are constantly changing, and for that reason, each year’s flu vaccine is updated based on the most commonly circulating viruses. Getting the vaccine now will ensure you are protected once the flu season starts. It takes about two weeks after receiving the flu vaccination for antibodies to start working.
Morse said last year the flu virus drifted a bit from what was in the vaccine, which happens from time to time. As a result, the number of illnesses, medical visits, hospitalizations, and deaths were above average. She said it was estimated that 37-43 million people got sick from the flu last year. From 2010-2018, Morse said the average number of cases was 28.5 million but the number ranged from 9.3-48.8 million cases during that time frame.
She said even though the vaccine was not a direct match to the virus circulating, getting the vaccine still was beneficial.
“You are less likely to be in the hospital, in the ICU or to die. If you get the flu shot you might only miss a day or two (of work or school) and will be less miserable,‘ she said.
When it comes to staying healthy, for both adults and children, proper handwashing is one of the most important steps people can take to prevent the spread of germs. This includes washing hands after using the bathroom, before eating or after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose.
With younger children, it is important to teach them to not share a water bottle at school, daycare or with siblings. Sharing of water bottles or food is an easy way for children to pass germs to each other. It also is important to make sure the bottle they are using is kept clean.
Proper cough etiquette is important, which means always coughing into a facial tissue or the crook of your elbow. Finally, drinking enough fluids, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep all can help prevent you from getting sick.