More severe flu season expected this year

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Different parts of the country are seeing an earlier and faster spread of the flu this year, with upticks in the south and on the east coast. Health officials in Michigan are concerned about what could happen locally.

While not much flu activity has been reported in Michigan now, health officials are encouraging everyone to protect themselves through vaccination and basic measures like hand washing, cough covering and staying home when sick.

“October is the best time to be getting a flu shot,” Rick Grice, HomeTown Pharmacy manager, says.

At their location in Kent City, they’re doing about 20 flu shots per scheduled day. Grice says that’s a bit different than what he’s seen in recent flu seasons.

“People over the past few years been focused on COVID shots versus flu, so it’s consistent with pre-COVID numbers,” he says.

“It’s impossible to predict year to year what the flu season is going to be like,” Dr. Thomas Veverka says.

Dr. Veverka with the Michigan State Medical Society says there are several indicators pointing to a potentially more severe season, like an increase in cases and death in the southern hemisphere during their flu season.

“First of all, in 2020 and 2021, influenza was virtually non-existent. It was felt likely due to the fact that we were taking a lot of precautions for COVID, wearing masks, socially distancing, and not traveling as much, so this protected us from influenza,” he says.

That means people did not develop a natural immunity to the flu in the last two years, which Dr. Veverka says is particularly dangerous for the elderly and young children.

“They have not developed any natural immunity to influenza since they’ve not been exposed at all,” he says.

Dr. Veverka says another indicator of a more active flu season is the increase in travel, which means more exposure.

“I’ll be curious to see how that goes this winter to see if, you know, for the last couple of winters, we have primarily been wearing masks,” Grand Rapids Public Schools Health Services Director Kim Baron says.

She says the district hasn’t seen flu activity yet. The district encourages families to talk with their doctor about getting the flu shot, and keep their kids at home when sick.

“A lot of the symptoms that we would ask people to keep their children home for are symptoms that you would see with a lot of communicable diseases and viruses, [like] fever greater than 100.4, cough, runny nose, headache, shortness of breath, extremely fatigued, things like that,” Baron says.

She adds that families can reach out to their school health officers in their child’s school to ask about the flu and the vaccine.

“Our nurses and health aides would be happy to connect them with resources for that. I think that’s an important thing to make sure that families know,” she says.

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