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CADILLAC — So far this season, the prediction by many public health officials that the COVID-19 pandemic may be exacerbated by a flu epidemic has fortunately not come to pass.

Bethanie Dean, immunization coordinator for District Health Department No. 10, said as of the beginning of this week, she was not aware of any influenza cases within the health department’s jurisdiction, which includes Wexford, Missaukee and Lake counties.

“According to the MI Flu focus, which is the weekly influenza surveillance report, Michigan has had minimal flu activity,” Dean said. “This time last year the flu activity in Michigan was at the local level. I believe the decrease is due to people getting vaccinated against the flu. This season we have vaccinated a lot of patients with their first ever flu vaccine. It’s great to see so many people getting their flu vaccines and protecting themselves.”

Dr. James Whelan, acting chief of medicine at Munson Healthcare Cadillac Hospital, said there normally are cases of the flu in Northern Michigan by this time of the year; he attributes the absence of cases to several factors, including higher vaccination rates, social distancing practices and wearing masks.

Evidence that social distancing has mitigated the spread of influenza can be seen in Australia, which recently came out of its winter season. Whelan said researchers found that flu cases there were much lower this year as a result of people gathering less often and sharing the same air.

While some people may claim the reason there are no flu cases is because they are being identified as COVID-19, Whelan said they test for both viruses when someone comes in with symptoms, so mistaking the diagnosis would be very unlikely.

Whelan said someone infected with both the coronavirus and influenza is more at risk of developing serious problems, since their immune system will be suppressed by the first ailment and unable to fully defend itself against the second. This is an even bigger danger for the elderly and those who already have compromised immune systems.

“If you are living with certain chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or asthma, you are at higher risk of developing serious complications from flu, like pneumonia, bronchitis, and other illnesses that can lead to hospitalization or even death,” reads a District Health Department No. 10 press release issued Wednesday. “Even if your chronic condition is well-controlled, flu can make your condition worse — it can trigger asthma attacks, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, and make your blood sugar harder to manage. Flu vaccination is recommended to protect you from severe flu-related illness and help keep your chronic condition under control.”

According to the health department, every year, flu is responsible for millions of illnesses, tens of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths. Last flu season, nine out of 10 adults hospitalized with flu had at least one reported underlying medical condition. The most commonly reported underlying medical conditions in patients hospitalized for flu include heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and chronic lung disease. A flu shot reduces your risk of getting sick with flu, but even if getting a flu shot does not completely prevent flu infection, some studies show that it can help reduce the severity of illness and prevent complications that can result in hospitalization and death.

“Getting vaccinated against flu is always extra important for people with certain chronic conditions, but as the U.S. battles the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever,” reads the health department press release. “Flu and COVID-19 together could overwhelm our medical systems. A flu shot this season can help protect you from flu and reduce your risk of needing medical care for flu-related complications. We can all do our part to reduce the spread of flu and protect our loved ones and our community from flu, saving medical resources to care for COVID-19 patients.”

On Dec. 1, 108 individuals received their flu vaccination at a drive-thru flu shot clinic that was held at the Cherry Grove Fire Department and on Dec. 4, 92 individuals received their flu vaccination at a drive-thru flu shot clinic held at the Haring Township Fire Department. The two clinics were part of a regional effort to improve influenza vaccination rates across Northern Michigan in a collaborative effort between local public health, Munson Healthcare and their regional hospitals.

“We are grateful for the efforts and collaboration across multiple organizations to deliver this important public health service,” said Kevin Hughes, health officer for District Health Department No. 10. “Not one single entity had the capacity to do this alone. By pooling our resources, we can now reach more community members than we would have individually. This is public health at its best.‘

If you missed the above events there is an upcoming drive-thru clinic event in Wexford County on Wednesday, Dec. 9, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Mesick Bus Garage, 615 S Clark St. Serving ages 6 months old and over.

For those who have not received their flu shot and who cannot make an event, additional clinics are available through your local health department or by calling your primary care provider.

“Flu season is upon us, but we haven’t seen a large influx of cases yet, which means a flu shot can still help reduce the risk from flu,‘ says Dr. Jennifer Morse, Medical Director for District Health Department No. 10.