This story appeared in the Midland Daily News. Read more here.
By the time spring arrives, we typically start thinking about seasonal allergies instead of the flu, but that may be different this year. Up until the last few weeks, flu season has been relatively mild across Michigan and the U.S. But now, flu activity is on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Why would flu season extend into spring? The most likely culprit is the rollback of COVID-19 mitigation measures like masking and our return to pre-pandemic activities. These measures that were put in place to protect against COVID also worked to limit flu transmission for the past two years. This is why there have been far fewer flu cases than normal during the pandemic.
While it’s good that cases have been down, there are now also far less people with immunity to the latest strains of influenza and other seasonal viruses. That is resulting in a longer flu season and an uptick in non-COVID-19 illnesses. That’s why state health officials and the CDC are still recommending that you protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu, if you haven’t yet.
Flu season isn’t over and shouldn’t be ignored. So far, there have been at least 3.5 million flu illnesses resulting in 34,000 hospitalizations, and 2,000 deaths from the flu across the U.S., according to the CDC. Fourteen of those deaths were of children, and just recently, MDHHS confirmed the first influenza-associated pediatric death of the current flu season in Michigan. While those numbers may not seem high to you, I’m sure everyone would care if their loved one was one of those statistics.
Protection is important because the flu is not like the common cold. It is a highly contagious illness that can develop very quickly and turn very serious, especially in children. Flu prevention through immunization will help avoid secondary complications, hospitalizations and deaths, even in otherwise healthy individuals. In the past decade alone, 80 percent of pediatric flu deaths have been in children unvaccinated against influenza, per the CDC.
Every vaccine-preventable death is one too many and we need to use the tools at our disposal to protect us from serious illness. Safe and effective vaccines are available to guard against a long list of diseases, including the flu. As this season stretches into spring and people become less vigilant when interacting with others, the bottom line is that we all need to protect ourselves, our families, and our fellow community members by getting the flu shot.
As the weather warms up and we spend more time outside, please remember to not completely let your guard down. It is possible to live normal lives while still being vigilant about health prevention at the same time. That means regular handwashing and symptom monitoring must remain second nature to us all. Even though flu season may not yet be over in Michigan, we have the tools to ensure it doesn’t become a widespread outbreak. So, get your shot; your and your family’s health depend on it.