Flu levels are high as Michigan prepares for post-holiday surge

This article appeared in MLive. Read more here.

Influenza and flu-like illnesses continue to trend up in Michigan as the state gets set to flip the calendar into 2023.

Michigan’s flu levels were considered “high” for the second consecutive week when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its weekly update Friday, Dec. 30. Most of the nation is experiencing high or “very high” levels, with only eight states reporting “moderate,” “low,” or “minimal” levels.

Dr. Jaime Hope, medical director of the Livonia Freestanding Emergency Center, said she and her healthcare partners around the state continue to see rising flu cases. The numbers “aren’t skyrocketing,” but are noticeably higher and appear to be following the typical post-holiday surge that comes in late December and early January.

“People wanted to get together for the holidays and not everyone wanted to wear a mask or stay home and isolate when they’re sick,” Hope said. “People tend to ignore symptoms and put off seeking help around the holidays. As symptoms persist and people feel worse, more people come to the hospital.”

The CDC’s weekly influenza map includes 13 levels from “minimal” to “very high” influenza-like illness activity levels. The system monitors outpatient visits for respiratory illness that includes fever plus a cough or sore throat — not lab-confirmed flu cases.

In the latest update, Michigan was joined by other Midwest states like Wisconsin and Illinois with “high” levels, and came in behind Indiana and Ohio, which reported “very high” levels.

Additionally, CDC data indicates U.S. flu hospitalizations are much higher at this point in the season compared to late December each of the last eight years at least. The peaks of those seasons were higher, though it’s too early to know where the 2022-23 season will top out.

“I don’t think we’ve peaked yet,” Hope said. “People who are celebrating the holidays are going to come back home and then go back to work and school and share their collection of viruses.

“We’ll see an uptick generally through February and then, ideally, we expect to see a seasonal decline.”

As of the week ending Dec. 17, about 4% of Michigan’s outpatient hospital visits were due to flu-like illness. That was up from 3.3% the week before, but below the national average of 6.3%.

The U.S. has reported 47 pediatric deaths associated with the flu so far this season, though none have been reported by health officials in Michigan.

Data regarding infections can be limited as few cases lead to testing and/or needing medical attention. The CDC estimates there have been between 18 million and 37 million flu infections so far this year, resulting in at least 190,000 hospitalizations and at least 12,000 deaths.

Those who do have more severe illnesses and need additional care tend to be young children, elderly, and individuals with underlying health conditions that are already taxing the body. Those patients will show up to the emergency room with trouble breathing, severe fatigue, and other symptoms that feel out of the ordinary from a typical virus.

While the flu continues to creep up, other respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and RSV remain steady. As of Thursday, Michigan had five counties with high COVID-19 community levels, including Marquette, Delta, Alger, Schoolcraft and Luce counties. All five counties are located in the U.P.

This year, Michigan officials set a goal of vaccinating 4 million residents against the flu. As of Dec. 17, there were 2.81 million doses administered.

To find a vaccine near you, visit vaccines.gov or call the COVID-19 Hotline at 888-535-6136 (press 1) between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the weekend.

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