Flu season peaking throughout Kent County

February 25, 2011
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If more employees have been calling in sick this month, it’s no surprise: February was accompanied by a spike in the number of people with influenza-like symptoms showing up in local emergency rooms, the Kent County Health Department reported last week.

While no match for last year’s wave of swine flu, reports of influenza-like symptoms are up 7 to 10 percent in Kent County ERs since the end of January, said Amy Singer, health department spokeswoman.

“They are bang on,” said Kim Greenwald, infection control coordinator at Saint Mary’s Health Care, where emergency room patients with influenza-like symptoms have gone from as low as 3 percent in January to as high as 16 percent in February. “We’re getting people with flu symptoms in the hospital. The census is increasing.”

Kent County has had 165 cases of confirmed influenza since Sept. 1, Singer said. Four of them were caused by the H1N1, or swine flu, virus. No one has died of the flu virus in Kent County this season, she added. The majority of cases have been recorded since January.

“Last year was a difficult year to compare to,” Singer added.

In the 2009-10 flu season, more than 2,100 Michiganders contracted swine flu and 78 died. So far in the 2010-11 flu season, 63 cases of H1N1 have been identified in the state since Oct. 3. The Michigan Department of Community Health’s newsletter, MI FluFocus, reported that one child has died, of influenza B, this flu season.

“The flu season last year presented itself much earlier, and then dwindled off as the season went on, but we were done with the bulk of it by January,” Greenwald recalled.

More flu cases are arriving at the doors of Spectrum Health as well, spokesman Bruce Rossman said. The volumes are lower than is typical, he said, but the H1N1 virus is still being detected and some of the sickest are otherwise healthy and young adults, who tend to ignore the need for flu vaccinations. Vaccinations are available at Spectrum’s Urgent Care Centers, he added.

Helen Berghoef, Metro Health Hospital’s director of emergency services, said the number of patients presenting flu-like symptoms has been up this month in the Wyoming hospital’s emergency room, although not near the spike that occurred during the swine flu crisis.

Those admitted to the hospital with influenza-like symptoms receive help with problems such as keeping up with fluid intake or breathing difficulties, Greenwald said, as there is nothing in the pharmaceutical realm that is effective against the virus. Flu patients also are checked for secondary infections such as pneumonia, for which medicines may be prescribed, she said.

Singer said flu season usually winds down in April.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone age 6 months and older receive a vaccination for the strains of flu virus currently in circulation.

Flu vaccine is plentiful and the health department is offering it at clinics in Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Rockford and Wyoming. Make an appointment by calling the health department at 632-7200 or by visiting www.stickittotheflu.com

For adults, the cost is $25 for an injection or $31 for the FluMist version, or the health department will bill Medicaid or Medicare. For children from 6 months to 18 years, the department has a sliding fee scale that tops out at $15, and it will bill Medicaid.

According to the MDCH, the current vaccine is aimed at three viruses: an H3N2 virus; an influenza B virus; and the H1N1 virus. According to the CDC’s FluView, influenza was widespread in 37 states as of Feb. 12.

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